Dr. Dipple on Translating 16th-Century German

Dr. Dipple and "The Fifteen Confederates"

Dr. Geoffrey Dipple has worked for the past four years on translating a 16th-century pro-Reformation German manuscript that will be essential to his classroom: "The Fifteen Confederates."

Dr. Geoffrey Dipple was shocked.

An essential read for those who study the Reformation had not yet been translated from the original sixteenth-century German into English.

“The Fifteen Confederates,” first anonymously published in 1521 and later attributed to author Johann Eberling von Günzburg is a popular pro-Reformation writing that was published after Martin Luther’s hearing at the Diet of Worms.

“It’s an interesting insight into what people who didn’t actually know Luther thought he was saying,” said Dipple, professor of history at Augustana. “It was also quite influential at the time judging by how many copies were printed.”

“The Fifteen Confederates” had a big impact on Dipple’s dissertation and what became his first book, “Antifraternalism and Anticlericalism in the German Reformation: Johann Eberlin von Günzburg and the Campaign Against the Friars” and, of course, he had to read it in German.

“I probably read as much German as I do English,” Dipple said.

“In the back of my mind I thought ‘someday somebody should translate this into English so we can use it in classes without expecting students to read 16th-century German,” Dipple said.

He decided to be that person.

Over the past four years, Dipple has chipped away at the German manuscript, translating, interpreting and creating footnotes and references for his students to use. He hoped to do a good job and do it cheaply. Instead of the typical $80 textbook, Dipple says this text is around $20.

He plans to use it in his own classroom the next time he teaches on the Reformation – possibly Fall 2015.

“My hope is that people at other colleges and universities will use it for their Reformation classes too,” Dipple said.

The book is intended for students to use, so Dipple wanted to accompany the translation with plenty of footnotes to give them some context.

“I didn’t want to give them all the details, but I wanted to give students a head start so if something wasn’t completely clear, I could suggest a reference work for them to follow up with,” Dipple said.

Keeping his students in mind is a big reason why this book became a four-year project. Translating the 16th-century German was a challenge because many of the passages didn’t follow standard rules for grammar and spelling or the meaning was not easily ascertained.

“There are some very bizarre turns of phrase,” Dipple said. “It’s kind of like reading Shakespeare in that you sometimes have to sit for a while and think about the meaning.”

The book was published in July by Pickwick Publications and Dipple is excited to promote the book and is already on to his next projects.

He is writing a chapter to contribute to a book titled “The Cambridge History of Reformation Theology” and has portions of two books started.

Just like any writer, Dipple struggles with parts of writing too.

“Some things are a lot of fun, like conceptualizing a bigger project when you start to think about how things fit together,” Dipple said. But “sometimes when you get down to where you’re trying to get things on paper and get the first draft prepared, I find that to be a real grind.”

“The start of the process is a lot of fun and the end of the process I really enjoy. Somewhere in the middle it just gets to be too much like work,” he joked.

Dipple says his colleagues in all departments are active scholars.

“People are very involved in research,” he said.

“I tell a lot of prospective students, ‘check in on what the faculty are doing. Are they doing what they expect you to do?’ I think it’s a sign of a healthy college that the faculty are getting up early on Saturday mornings to do their own work. It means they’re still enthused about it.”

Dr. Geoffrey Dipple received his Ph.D. in early modern European history from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. Before joining the faculty at Augustana, he taught at the University of Ottawa, Queen’s University and the University of Toronto. In addition to regularly teaching introductory classes on the history of "Western Civilization," he also offers courses on the history of the Middle Ages, "The Reformation," "Hitler and the Holocaust," and on genocide in the 20th century. His other publications include "Radical Reformation Studies: Essays Presented to James M. Stayer", co-edited with Werner O. Packull (1999), and “'Just as in the Time of the Apostles': Uses of History in the Radical Reformation" (2005).