Illinois College professors Paul and Almut Spalding are putting the final pieces together on a book project that will give detailed records about everyday life over a 50-year span in 18th-century Europe.
The husband and wife team have been working together on this project for several years and will finish the manuscript in Hamburg, Germany, in July. Once completed, the book will be published by the Dutch publishing company, Brill.
“We have been working on this project for a long time, and it has been a true collaboration,” Almut, professor of modern languages, said. “This will be a two-volume publication under the title, The Household Accounts of the Reimarus Family of Hamburg, 1728-1780.”
The first volume will be the transcription of the original accounting books from the Reimarus family, and the second volume will be a detailed index. The transcription will be in the original German, but the index will be in English which will make the publication as widely accessible and useful as possible, according to Almut.
The idea for the book came when Almut discovered four original account books and realized they were all from the same family in Germany. The majority of her work has been identifying the many people mentioned in the records. Paul, professor of religion at IC, has focused on the transcription (which is from old Gothic handwriting) and the compilation of the index.
The family that the Spaldings are researching happens to be an important family during the period. The father, Hermann Samuel, was a key modern biblical scholar, Almut said. His son, Johann Albert Hinrich, was a physician, a scientist and an economist who introduced the smallpox vaccination and the lightning rod to Germany and also wrote about international trade. His daughter, Elise, was a leader of an early German literary salon, an educator, a dramatist and a best-selling children's author.
These financial account records provide insight into anything from books family members purchased to how water access, garbage collection and fire insurance were handled in Hamburg at the time. Consumption of goods from all over the world, the types of schooling the children received, funeral costs, and indications of rural-urban migration patterns and social mobility of domestic employees were also recorded.
Almut said that other financial records of that era do exist, but very few such records are published and accessible.
“Scholars from all sorts of fields have shown interest in our work over the last years since we started presenting at conferences about this or that aspect,” Almut said. “For instance, the latest inquiries have come from musicologists who are curious to know how much musicians earned, or what types of musical instruments people purchased, or how composer networks functioned.”
The Spaldings will finish proofing the manuscript and collecting illustrations while they are in Hamburg this summer and have the final manuscript to Brill by September 1.
“Neither one of us could have done this alone,” Almut said. “This summer, I received a faculty travel award for this purpose, but this year's award is not the only one that has contributed to this project. We are immensely appreciative of the support we have both received at one time or another to make progress with this project over the course of years.”