Reformation or revolution? 60 seconds with Dr Janina Ramirez

In 1517, Martin Luther (1483–1546), a devout Augustinian friar and university lecturer, put forward 95 theses which criticised indulgences in the Roman Catholic church. His propositions sparked a religious revolution across Europe. In the 500th anniversary year of the Reformation, at our Winchester History Weekend this October, Dr Janina Ramirez will explore the impact of these religious changes on 16th-century Europe…

Janina Ramirez. (Image: Fran Monks)

Janina Ramirez. (Image: Fran Monks)

Ahead of her talk, 'Reformation or Revolution: the Death of the Medieval World?’, we found out more…

Q: What can audiences look forward to in your talk?

A: Extreme enthusiasm. My mum used to despair at the fact that every school and university report I ever had included the word ‘enthusiastic’. She came to see it as code for ‘uncontrollable’. But I can now channel that into something I love, and pour that enthusiasm out to others!

 

Q: Why are you so fascinated by this topic?

A: I have a deep connection with the medieval past. I have spent so long reading their texts, looking at their art, and enjoying their landscapes, that I feel I can connect with them intellectually and emotionally. When you make that sort of a breakthrough, it can take over your life. 


Protestant reformer Martin Luther, a leading figure in the Reformation, c1520. (Photo by Stock Montage/Getty Images)
 

Q: Tell us something that might surprise or shock us about your area of history.

A: That Vikings didn’t wear horned helmets… next!

 

Q: What is the hardest question you’ve ever been asked about your area of expertise?

A: Every time I teach or give a talk, I get asked questions that open up my own understanding. I never see them as ‘hard’ or ‘easy’. If I can’t answer something I’ll be honest and say: “That is fascinating. I don’t know the answer, but I’m very keen to run off and research more so I can find it.” Often the best questions are those that are completely left of field and make a connection with other world cultures or ideas that had not yet hit my radar. Every day, and with every question, I learn more.

 

Q: If you could go back in time to meet one historical figure or experience one historical event, who/what would you choose and why? 

A: I always say the same thing to this question. I would go back to Jarrow during the lifetime of Bede – preferably at the point that he is dying. I’d ask him if I had developed the right view of his work, if I’d truly understood the art and texts I study, and I’d spend time trying to get to know a mind I’ve been fascinated by for decades. 

In terms of an event, I’d want to be at the speech Richard II gave to the Peasant’s Revolt. To have subdued the raging people, he must have had something pretty special to say!

 

Q: What historical mystery would you most like to solve?

A: What’s going on in the Franks Casket [an eighth-century whale-bone box which has intrigued and puzzled since its discovery in the 19th century in France].


A side panel from the Franks Casket. (Photo by CM Dixon/Print Collector/Getty Images)

Q: What job do you think you would be doing now if you weren’t a historian?

A: I think it was inevitable that I would end up teaching. Every woman in my family as far as records stretch back was a teacher. We have an insatiable need to share and learn. 

Dr Janina Ramirez is a historian, author and broadcaster based at Oxford University. She is the author of The Private Lives of the Saints (2015). She will be speaking about the Reformation at BBC History Magazine’s Winchester History Weekend on Saturday 7 October 2017.

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