(9-16-98) -- A 50-year project has drawn to a close with the long-awaited completion of the German Studies Department's Martin Luther Index Verborum, an exhaustive index of every German word used by Luther in his writings between 1516 and 1525.
The index is soon to be made available on the World Wide Web, where it is expected to serve as a unique reference resource for historians, theologians, German linguists and Luther scholars.
"We've had scholars from all over the world express interest in the project," said German Studies Chairman Prof. Michael Resler. "It's the sort of thing that will put Boston College on the map among Luther scholars."
The project was launched at Yale University in the 1940s by the late Prof. Heinz Bluhm, who brought it with him when he came to Boston College in the mid-1960s to establish the Germanic Studies Department. Since Bluhm's death in 1993, his family has financed the Luther project, which has been directed by Keith Morehouse. It has been used by many students as a springboard to graduate studies.
Luther was a central figure not only in the history of European Christianity but also in the development of modern German, according to Resler, who said Luther's editions of the Bible, widely circulated in the years following the invention of the printing press, helped standardize the German language.
Resler said the newly-completed index offers a valuable research tool to Luther scholars who seek to parse the writings of the religious reformer. The German word geist, for example, can mean "spirit," "mind" or "ghost"; a scholar curious as to the sense in which Luther used the word can call up the index to find volume, page and line in which the word appears.
In pre-computer days, Resler noted, the project entailed filling out an index card for every German word written by Luther -- a task often still required even today, due to the difficulty of scanning old Gothic text. At least 100 drawers of index cards are stored in the basement of Burns Library. Batches of the cards were regularly brought upstairs to Bapst Library to be entered into computers by work-study students.
Portions of the index are currently available on the Web. Resler said the full index is likely to be placed on line sometime this fall, and that a 20-volume printed version of the index is available in the German Studies offices.
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