Natural Disasters and Apocalyptic Anxiety: The Wick Collection

This Project explores the emotional impact and response to various natural disasters during the crisis period of the Reformation in central and western Europe in the mid and later sixteenth century. This will be examined through the prism of the thousands of printed pamphlets, broadsheets and hand-written accounts together with their highly graphic illustrations, which were collected by the leading pastor of the reformed Zurich church, Johann Jakob Wick, between 1560 and 1588.

Natural Disasters and Apocalyptic Anxiety: the Wick collection

The project explores the so-called ‘archive’ of the Zurich pastor Johann Jakob Wick in order to discover how critical disasters were to the religious, political and social crises of the later sixteenth century. Wick’s collection contains over 900 printed pamphlets and illustrated broadsheets, thousands of hand-written documents and over 1500 illustrations . These documents include numerous reports of natural and social disasters such as storms, earthquakes, floods, avalanches, bitter cold, famine, fires celestial visions, terrible crimes, murders and wars, often considered to be direct and incontrovertible signs of the apocalyptic End Time.

Even in Wick’s lifetime, this archive of contemporary reports was referred to as a ‘Wonder Book’. For its immediate purpose was to astound its readers, to elicit emotions of wonder, mixed especially with anger, penitence, grief and fear; to have readers wonder at these awesome, astounding, confusing and also terrifying events. As with other contemporary collections, they testify to the intense interest in wondrous signs at a time of great uncertainty and anxiety concerning the progress, and even the survival, of the Reformation. These documents provide us with a rich and complex mix of affective and emotional responses to the disasters they describe. They offer layered and frequently very ambiguous understandings of the origins and significance of disasters, and it is this ambiguity that seems to elicit the conflicting emotional responses typified as fear and wonder. By studying the relationship between these responses and apocalyptic language and thought, we discover the extent to which emotions were crucial to the changes brought about by the sixteenth-century Reformation.

Publications

Zika, C. & J Spinks, eds. Disaster, Death and the Emotions in the Shadow of the Apocalypse, 1400-1700, Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming 2015.

Zika, C., ‘Disaster and Apocalypse, Emotions and Time in Reformation News-sheets’, in Jennifer Spinks & Charles Zika, eds, Disaster, Death and the Emotions in the Shadow of the Apocalypse, 1400-1700, Palgrave Macmillan, forthcoming 2015

Zika, C., “Visual Signs of Imminent Disaster in the Sixteenth-century Zurich Archive of Johann Jakob Wick”, in Monica Juneja & Gerrit Jasper Schenk, eds, Disaster as Image: Iconographies and Media Strategies across Europe and Asia, Regensburg: Schnell und Steiner, 2014, pp. 43–53.

Zika, C., C. Leahy & J. SPINKS, eds, The Four Horsemen: Apocalypse, Death & Disaster, Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, 2012. Viii + 88 pp. ISBN: 9780742103577

Zika, C. & Jenny Spinks, ‘The Four Horsemen: an Introduction’, in The Four Horsemen: Apocalypse, Death & Disaster, eds, Cathy Leahy, Jenny Spinks & Charles Zika, Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, pp. 1-14 (2012)

Zika, C. ‘Witchcraft and the Scapegoating of Disaster’, The Four Horsemen: Apocalypse, Death & Disaster, eds, Cathy Leahy, Jenny Spinks & Charles Zika, Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria, pp. 62-75 (2012)