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Author: Kenneth G. Appold
Title: Helmar Junghans's Martin Luther (1483-1546)
Publication Info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
August 2001

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Source: Helmar Junghans's Martin Luther (1483-1546)
Kenneth G. Appold

vol. 4, no. 2, August 2001
Article Type: Site Review

Helmar Junghans's Martin Luther (1483-1546)

Kenneth G. Appold

Martin Luther (1483-1546) by Helmar Junghans; Released by "Gesellschaft fr Multimediaproduktionen in Berlin mbH"; (; 1996; Price: DM 78.00

General and technical information:

This CD-ROM provides a useful overview of Martin Luthers life and times in German. Though not likely to offer many new insights to specialists in the field, it makes an appealing introduction for German-speaking students or non-specialists. This, indeed, is the audience for whom the product was designed.

Released in 1996, the CD-ROM runs on most recent operating systems, beginning with Windows 3.1.x/NT 3.5.x, or Windows 95/NT 4. It is advertised as being compatible with MacOS and OS/2, though no installation instructions for these systems are provided.

Installation itself is easily mastered, requiring only the loading of a new font. Beyond that, no more than a mouse-click gets the user underway. This assumes, of course, that the user reads German and can understand the "Liesmich" installation-instructions.

As a whole, the CD-ROM is user-friendly. Navigation requires an initial deciphering of rather arcane symbols, but is easily negotiable once that is done. Both the accompanying booklet and an "Information" page within the program are provided and help in this respect. The user jumps back and forth between narrative texts, explanatory notes or short films, all the while accompanied by a quasi-medieval monastic drone, which becomes more ludicrous with increased use, but can, of course, be turned off.

Historians should find the product entertaining at least, and likely to be a helpful teaching aid for a general audience, provided this reads German. Helmar Junghans, who wrote the texts and supervised the project, is a renowned Reformation-historian and lends considerable authority to the work. Indeed, his ability to distill his considerable and specialised knowledge into a generally accessible and entertaining form without "dumbing down" the contents deserves praise.


Clicking on the introductory image, one is ushered into an entry-level page containing eight chapter headings arranged along the outer of three concentric circles. These include Luthers childhood and education, his monastic and early university career, the indulgence controversy, translation of the Bible and the Reformations spread, and the rise of a Protestant church up to and including the Peace of Augsburg in 1555, daily life in Germany at the time of the Reformation, Luthers spirituality and apocalyptic world-view, and, finally, Luthers death in 1546. After selecting a chapter of ones choice, one finds a scrollable text on the subject. Students will find the links within the text ("rubrics"), which take the user to brief explanations of terms like "Humanism" or "Penance", or biographical details on figures such as Charles V., useful.

The second of the three circles presents links to eight movie-theaters, each showing a series of cartoons intended to illustrate the historical information provided by the corresponding main chapters. A narrator reads texts to accompany the images and the user can skip back and forth among topics easily. The cartoons are occasionally a bit slow, but generally entertaining in a frivolous sort of way — some users may also find unintentional humor here. Users with little previous knowledge about Luther should find them informative.

The innermost circle affords access to eight more "themes". These focus on issues of daily life and spirituality at the time of the Reformation and include topics like belief in angels, purgatory, toys, travel, alchemy, and the printing press. Though not directly related to the historical texts, these sections are often quite interesting. In addition to a wealth of historical illustrations, the user finds, for example, excerpts of Albrecht Dürer's travel diaries, or depictions of reformation-era toys. The description of early modern modes of travel is one of the highlights of this CD.

In general this introductory-level work can be recommended without reservation to users requiring a product of that kind. With frequent use, however, one quickly reaches the CD's content-limits and yearns for further information. Though occasional references to additional literature are provided, they could certainly have been expanded to make the product more attractive as a learning tool. The graphics, often drawn from international museums (and credited in the index), are well-presented and without doubt more pleasing than what one generally finds in history textbooks. Herein lies the strength of the medium, and that multi-medial capability alone makes the product an appealing supplement to traditional teaching materials.

Dr. Kenneth G. Appold
Zentrum fr Refomationsgeschichte
Martin Luther Universitt Halle-Wittenberg