Martin Luther’s media phenomenon

2 min read

Martin Luther did more than just serve as a catalyst for the Reformation. By nailing his 95 theses to the door of a Wittenberg, Germany, church in 1517, he became the world’s first mass media figure and launched a new form of theological writing, argues University of St. Andrews Professor Andrew Pettegree.

Pettegree will discuss his research and his new book “Brand Luther” during a talk at HDS on Tuesday, March 29, at 5:15 pm, in the Sperry Room, titled “Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the Creation of a Media Phenomenon.” A special exhibit will be on display in the Andover-Harvard Theological Library in conjunction with Pettegree’s talk.

Before his visit to campus, HDS communications spoke with Pettegree about how Luther was able to leverage the printing press and be propelled from a virtual unknown to the most published writer since the birth of printing.

HDS: You call Luther the world’s first mass media figure. What made him so?

AP: He became well known very quickly. Also, he was not someone from a social level where one could have been expected to become a known face. He was not a ruler, he was not a dignitary in his own order, he was not a prince of the church. And yet, within two or three years of the publishing of 95 theses, he was the most published author in the history of printing, living or deceased. By 1521, there were more works published by Luther than any other single figure since birth of printing 80 years before.