Atlas of the European Reformations
by tim dowley
fortress, 160 pages, $24
Tim Dowley’s Atlas of the European Reformations offers a plentitude of useful, well-organized information. After eight pages of timeline and a short introduction, the next 120 pages generally follow the format of text on the left (often accompanied by pictures of the persons and places described) and a map taking up the entirety of the right-hand page. Dowley divides his text into four sections: the late medieval world, the Protestant reformations, the Catholic reformation, and the wars, exploration, and evangelization projects of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.
This text is a necessary contribution to the vast array of Reformation resources because so few of the standard texts have sufficient maps, and those that do are not as informative as the ones presented in this book. Indeed, the major histories usually have fewer than ten maps, if they have any at all; a book containing sixty is in a league of its own. Furthermore, even the books that do include maps do not use the full-color format, which allows for considerably more nuance in presentation.
By packing his maps with information, Dowley demonstrates the power of visual images. For example, the map of “The rise and distribution of the Jesuits” (map 40) shows areas that were Catholic in 1560, Catholic areas lost to Protestantism after 1560, areas regained by Catholicism by 1648, and areas that were consistently Protestant, Orthodox, and Muslim. In addition (all in the same map), Dowley plants markers for various Jesuit institutions. This demonstrates that areas that were Catholic in 1560 had mostly Jesuit centers and that the Jesuits concentrated their schools and seminaries in Protestant areas. Moreover, those Protestant areas containing Jesuit schools and seminaries returned to the Catholic fold; consistently Protestant areas lacked Jesuit presence.
Unfortunately, the book’s text rarely refers to the maps directly. In the case of the example above, the facing text describes the Jesuits’ mission without suggesting reasons for their success. Nor does it explain how the Jesuits got themselves into Protestant areas for the purpose of reconversion or what work they were doing in areas that began and ended as Catholic. In another example, the map of the English Reformation divides England into areas marked “predominantly Protestant” and “predominantly Catholic,” but the text narrates only the religious differences between the Tudor monarchs. Dowley does not explain why the Reformation took longer to take hold in Wales and the North or what he means by calling these areas “Catholic.”
In Atlas of the European Reformations, the significance of place to sixteenth-century religious politics is given its due. Minor frustrations aside, it is a joy to possess a useful geographical history of sixteenth-century religious transformations.
This review first appeared in the May 2016 edition of First Things.
Eleanor Everett Pettus teaches history at Atlanta Classical Academy.