February 21, 2013

Documents that Changed the World: A papal resignation

News and Information

Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter's Square, Rome, in 2007.

©Marek Kośniowski

Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peter’s Square, Rome, in 2007.

When he read that Pope Benedict XVI would resign — the first such papal resignation in nearly six centuries — Joe Janes quickly wrote and recorded a new episode in his Documents that Changed the World podcast series.

In the podcasts, Janes, professor in the UW Information School, explores the origin and evolving meaning of historical documents both famous and less known. UW Today presents these periodically, and all of the podcasts are available online.

“I was inspired by the suddenness of the announcement and then of course by the mechanism,’ Janes said. “Since a resignation hasn’t happened for centuries, how does it work?”

He added: “It’s also a great, vivid contemporary example of an old phenomenon and document: the resignation, which still feels like it needs to be in printed or written form. That leads naturally to thinking about similar circumstances like Edward VIII and Richard Nixon — and then ultimately to the notions of continuity and legitimacy.

“The history of papal resignation is also colorful, if of somewhat erratic historical verifiability, but makes for great stories, as does the question of how these things got transmitted then and now.”

In his discussion of partial and complete separations from power, Janes also touches on the Reagan assassination attempt, the 25th Amendment, and the curious case of Pope Celestine V, who spent much of his five-month tenure as pope alone in contemplation in a small wooden cell.

Janes continues to research and record new installments. The podcasts also are available at the iSchool website and on iTunes, where the series is approaching its 25,000th download.

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