Bachelor of Arts
European History, History, Judaic Studies
At the end of the fifteenth century, the Holy Roman Empire saw a dramatic escalation in anti-Semitism that paved the way for one of the largest waves of Jewish expulsions in medieval history. The Jews were expelled from Endingen in 1470, Mainz in 1473, and following the case of Simon of Trent, the Trent Jews were banished in 1475 and the Jews of Pass au in 1479; by the end of the fifteenth century Mecklenburg, Magdeburg, Salzburg and Nuremberg had also succeeded in driving out their Jewish populations. This is only a sample of the cities that lost their Jewish communities on the eve of the Reformation, and almost all of them were a result of the ritual murder or Host desecration allegations that swept through the Holy Roman Empire in the fifteenth century.
Since its occurrence, historians have attributed this widespread activity to a variety of causes, everything from the changing economic environment to the general religious upheaval in the decades preceding the Reformation. Many historians of this period in Jewish history mention in passing the invention of the printing press and the fact that this, as Salo Baron notes, "stimulated the output of polemical pamphlets, biased storiettes, folksongs and ballads" regarding the Jews, but no one goes beyond that kind of blanket statement. R. Po-Chia Hsia is one of the most active ritual murder historians in recent decades and he does, from time to time throughout his works, comment on the fact that print changed the ways that ideas were communicated. However, even he, as with many other historians in the field, has a tendency to leave that issue up to others to address.
Unfortunately, the same tendency is also true of print historians who are prone to pass over the first seventy-five years of the printing press. As in Robert Scribner's excellent study of Reformation propaganda, the period leading up to the Reformation is discussed only briefly. 3 The fact that the first printed products were syntheses of ideas previously presented in manuscripts is almost always taken to mean that the ideas contained within them are not worthy of further investigation. Especially with regard to printed material intended to reflect or even change popular sentiment regarding the Jews, there is virtually no scholarship on the period before Martin Luther. I intend to address this failing with a study of the effect of the printing press on the development of late medieval anti-Semitism, an exercise that will contribute greatly to the understanding of historians of both print culture and Judaism. I will do this by taking the perspective that the first printed documents had a much greater effect than previously acknowledged in deciding the fate of the Jews of Central Europe.
O'Callaghan, Amy, "Anti-Semitism and the Early Printing Press: A Study of the Effect of the Printing Press on Jewish Expulsions in Germany, 1450-1520" (2008). Honors Papers. 441.