GEMS Plans for the 2020-2021 Academic Year

Like many research groups, both at UGent and abroad, GEMS was forced this past spring to cancel and postpone a range of wonderful events featuring an array of speakers, scholars, students and visitors. We did so with both sadness and regret. 

For this coming academic year, our plan is to focus on the members of our GEMS community who most need our support and who might benefit most from our intellectual community: our Ph.D. students and postdocs here at UGent. We will be organizing a range of online events, some of which will be private brainstorming and feedback sessions for junior scholars to workshop their evolving research; other online events, also featuring our Ph.D. students and postdocs, will be public and accessible to GEMS members, the UGent community and outside scholars. These online events will be listed both on the GEMS website ( and on our FaceBook page ( 

This summer we will begin organizing these online events to take place during the 2020-2021 academic year. If you are a Ph.D. student, postdoc, or visiting junior scholar at UGent and interested in participating, either as an attendee or a presenter, please be in contact with Renée Vulto ( and Delphine Calle (

Hopefully, in the 2021-2022 academic year, GEMS will be able to resume its wide array of in-person events, including lectures, workshops, ateliers, “inspired by…” sessions, and book launches. If you are interested in sharing your research during the 2021-2022 academic year, please send an email to Andrew Bricker (

Till, hopefully, very soon again!


The GEMS Steering Committee


Due to the measures taken in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have decided to postpone all planned events for the rest of the academic year (including our Research Day). In this, we follow the guidelines of Ghent University.  Keep an eye on this website and our social media to hear about the plans for next year!

We hope that you and your families remain safe and healthy during this challenging time.

Upcoming GEMS Events

Both GEMS-members and other colleagues with an interest in the early modern period are invited to come to these meetings and to participate in the discussions. 

Academic year 2019/2020

Thursday, March 19th, 2 – 4 PM POSTPONED Joint Seminar with Sarton Centre
Gwendoline de Mûelenaere (UGent),Between Words and Images: Disseminating Science in Early Modern Education in the Southern Netherlands
Matteo Valleriani (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science),The Sphaera Corpus and Computational Humanitates

Monday, April 27th, 12 AM – 1 PM – !!!!!!!!CANCELLED!!!!!! Atelier with Manushag Powell, Hunting for Women in the Periodical Archives

Wednesday, May 20th,  10AM – 5 PM – Research Day: Early Modern Studies Outside the University – lectures and panels one the connections between academia and the cultural field

Tuesday, May 26th, 12 AM – 1 PMAtelier with Carlotta Striolo, The role of the Court of Brussels in shaping Titian’s reception in the Netherlands

Poster GEMS events 2019-2020 – Semester 2

The GEMS Seminars provide the opportunity to members of our research group and other scholars with an interest in the early modern period to meet and discuss current research issues. In the schedule (see menu) you will find two categories of these meetings. First there are the Ateliers during which GEMS-members or guests present their research projects, recent publications or ideas for future projects. Secondly we will have three meetings this academic year with specialists of the early modern period who will introduce to you the work of a famous scholar by whom they are inspired in their own scholarly work (Inspired by…). People who are interested to spotlight his or her current or future research projects during one of these meetings are cordially invited to get in contact with the organization (



Workshop: Revisiting Revenge. New Perspectives for the Study of Revenge Tragedies (late 16th–early 18th century)

Ghent University (Belgium), 16-17 September 2021

Keynote speaker: Prof. Russ Leo (Princeton University)

In the early modern period, revenge tragedies and related Senecan plays dealing with revenge flooded the European theatres, especially in England (The Spanish Tragedy, Titus Andronicus, The Revenger’s Tragedy, Hamlet), but also in the Dutch Republic (Wraeckgierigers treur-spel, Aran en Titus, De veinzende Torquatus, Medea) and Germany (Ermordete Majestät, Rache zu Gibeon, Cleopatra). Because of the plays’ abundant display of horror, audiences flocked to them in large numbers, rendering the revenge tragedy the most popular dramatic genre of its time. Yet, revenge tragedies have for a long time only reluctantly been allowed to join the established canon of classical works, since they were considered gross, decadent, gratuitous, sensationalist and markedly commerce-oriented plays. Only in the past few decades, literary scholars have attempted to adjust this one-sided image of the genre by suggesting that revenge plays informed (aspects of) the cultural-historical force field that helped shape them.

Bearing this suggestion in mind, we would like to invite scholars working on the subject to submit case studies exploring the ways in which European revenge plays participate in contemporary political, religious, philosophical, legal, economic and gender discourses, in order to make clear the genre’s broader cultural relevance – both in terms of its historical moment and of our analysis of that moment. Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

  • The relationship between revenge plays and the Christian (Catholic/Protestant) discourse on revenge. How do revenge tragedies interrogate the biblical message not to take revenge yourself, but to leave it to the Lord? And more generally, how do these plays interrogate divine providence as such?
  • The political topicality of early modern revenge drama: how did English revenge plays help shape the discourse concerning e.g. the unstable dynastic position of the Tudors? How did Dutch ‘wraaktragedies’ participate in the fierce discussions about the position of the stadtholder in the Dutch Republic? And how do German revenge plays relate to Ferdinand II’s attempt to impose imperial absolutism?
  • The relationship between revenge plays and gender. Early modern revenge plays feature both male and female stage avengers. Are there substantial differences in how female stage revengers avenge themselves compared to their male counterparts? And how do these differences inform our understanding of early modern gender roles?
  • Revenge plays and their relation to the system of legal justice in early modern Europe. With most stage revengers taking recourse to ‘a kind of wild justice’ (Francis Bacon), in what way does revenge drama provide an interrogation of the legal system of its time?
  • The dramatic representation of revenge itself. How is revenge depicted in the early modern revenge play? And how does dramatic revenge relate to other depictions of revenge in related art forms, like the opera seria?

We also invite participants to reflect in their presentations more explicitly on the arbitrariness of the classification of the revenge tragedy as a genre as such. We look forward to receiving your abstracts, and to a productive meeting in September.


  • The workshop will take place in Ghent on 16 and 17 September 2021 (precise location TBA).
  • Proposals for a twenty-minute presentation (given in English) are expected by March 1st, 2021 and should be sent to Proposals should include your name, academic affiliation and a brief curriculum vitae.
  • Submissions are expected as Word documents (max. 300 words).
  • Notification of acceptance will be provided by April 1st, 2021.
  • The programme will be finalized by May 1st, 2021.
  • A selection of contributions will be published in a peer-reviewed volume to be submitted to an international publisher.
  • We hope that you will support our efforts by notifying your colleagues and students about the conference. You are most welcome to contact the organisers for further details.
  • All this information can also be found on our website: (which will soon be online).

This conference is an initiative of the research groups GEMS ( and THALIA (, and is part of the BOF-funded research project Radical Revenge? Revenge tragedy and providential thinking in the Dutch Republic 1638-1678.

Organising committee:

Tom Laureys, PhD candidate (

Prof. dr. Kornee van der Haven (

Prof. dr. Jürgen Pieters (

Scientific committee:

Prof. dr. Ton Hoenselaars (Universiteit Utrecht)

Prof. dr. Karel Vanhaesebrouck (Université Libre de Bruxelles)

Prof. dr. Andrew Bricker (Ghent University)

Prof. dr. Inge Arteel (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)

Prof. dr. Bram Van Oostveldt (Universiteit Gent)

Dr. Laurens De Vos (Universiteit van Amsterdam)

GEMS in portraits: Sarah Adams

Last Tuesday, I sat down (at a safe distance) with Sarah Adams to talk about the research she has been conducting during the last couple of years as a PhD candidate in Dutch literature. Sarah’s research deals with abolitionist/ameliorist theatre plays written and staged between 1770 and 1810 in the Netherlands, which critically address colonial slavery in the Asian and Atlantic orbits. The aim of the project is to reveal how market-led and racist ideologies are running across her corpus of abolitionist plays. By structuring her research around three classic blackface characters which are traditionally being discerned in theatre historiography (the suffering object, the contented fool and the vengeful rebel), Sarah shows that abolitionist theatre ultimately tried to safeguard a white male subjectivity. As a matter of fact, it was a pretty special day for Sarah: just a moment before our meeting, she received the first printed copy of her doctoral thesis Repertories of Slavery, which she is about to defend publicly come December 10th.

Portrait of Toussaint Louverture, chromolithograph published by George de Baptiste (ca. 1870). Washington D.C.: Library of Congress [LC-DIG-pga-05834].

How did your interests in your research arise?

“In 2013, I studied at Newcastle University as a part of an Erasmus programme. There I followed a course called ‘Writing the New World’, which was taught by Professor Matthew Grenby. In one of the lectures, we discussed The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (1789), an autobiographic account of a formerly enslaved Nigerian man who was manumitted and brought to Europe, where he committed himself to the abolitionist cause in the British parliament. I was absolutely fascinated by his story. In my BA thesis, I went on to investigate the abolitionist discourse of eighteenth-century Dutch texts. Remarkably, I didn’t find any autobiographical accounts like that of Equiano, but mostly theatre plays, like Kraspoekol, of de slaaverny and Monzongo, of de koningklyke slaaf. Contrary to England, postcolonial studies in the Netherlands (and Belgium) still make up a kind of wasteland yet to cultivate.”

Do you consider your work interdisciplinary?

“Yes, I do. My research is discourse-oriented and centres on white self-representation, but also on power relations and racialized oppression. I guess discourse analyses are by definition interdisciplinary. To give an example: in my chapter on the character of the contented fool, I delve into early modern uses of blackface in the theatre. In it, I show how the history of blackface in the early modern theatre is intertwined with shifting ideas concerning race, science and capitalism. In this sense, I set up a dialogue between literary and non-literary texts, like political and scientific treatises.”

Have you ever experienced a Eureka moment in your research?

Absolutelyin the Fall of 2019, I had an experience of what you might call ‘archival satisfaction’. In a book by Eberhard Rebling about ballets in the Amsterdam schouwburg, published in 1950, I came across a drawing by François Joseph Pfeiffer, who was the schouwburg’s costume designer around 1800. The drawing showed the costume for two enslaved sub-Saharan African characters, with a blackened complexion and stereotypical attributes like a tambourine and a spear. Rebling’s book indicated that the drawing was kept in the Amsterdam Six Collection. Yet despite searching this entire collection, I couldn’t find Pfeiffer’s design and the staff assumed the drawing had been sold to a private person. More than a year had gone by, when I visited the TIN (Theater Instituut Nederland, now Allard Pierson). Although the entire TIN-collection had been digitized, and the drawing wasn’t there, a staff member managed to find the drawing at the bottom of a cardboard box which had been mislaid. This drawing is very important to me, since it is the closest we can get to the actual appearance of Africanized and enslaved characters on the early modern Dutch stage.”

What is the most inspiring study you have ever read?

“That must be Silencing the Past (1995) by the Haitian historian Michel-Rolph Trouillot, who has dedicated his whole career to investigating how historiography and the acquisition of knowledge are related to power. According to Trouillot, historiography is a vast collection of ‘mentions and silences’. These silences are neither natural nor neutral; they are always actively created by dominant voices in society. Trouillot demonstrates this by means of the historiography of the 1791 Haitian Revolution in the French colony of Saint-Domingue. In a couple of days, the rebel leader Toussaint Louverture managed to mobilize tens of thousands of free and enslaved people of colour against the French coloniser, which would eventually result in the foundation of the first black, independent republic in the Caribbean in 1804. Trouillot shows that from the beginning on, the European metropoles framed the Haitian Revolution as an isolated case, which was completely depoliticized, criminalized and banalized. This was, of course, a strategy to make slave-led resistance to colonial subjection consonant with the white dominant order—Africans and their descendants were held in an unnegotiable subservient position and for them to envision freedom was ‘unthinkable,’ to use Trouillot’s term. Only recently, the Revolution of 1791 has been recognized as a crucial moment in modern history, which is reflected in the fact that more and more researchers include the Haitian Revolution into their account of the so-called ‘Age of Revolution’. Silencing the Past is an accessible study and makes researchers aware of the fact that they as well are inevitably mentioning some voices, while silencing others.” 

And the most recent one?

De Slavernij in Oost en West. Het Amsterdam onderzoek, a volume edited by Pepijn Brandon, Guno Jones, Nancy Jouwe and Matthias van Rossum). It appeared only a couple of days ago and came about at the request of the Amsterdam city council, which will take the book as a point of reference in its decision on whether or not to offer formal apologies for the city’s colonial past. The conclusion of the editors is that Amsterdam was involved in the institution of slavery on a global scale and for a long period of time, and that this past continues to affect modern-day Amsterdam. The speech delivered by mayor Femke Halsema at the book presentation on September 29, 2020, was actually hopeful, so I expect there will be apologies in the near future. This book is of utmost importance in the campaign to raise public awareness of the country’s colonial past.”

— Tom Laureys

GEMS in Portraits: Jonas Roelens

While all GEMS activities have been postponed in these strange times, research and teaching continues. In the middle of marking exams, Jonas Roelens found the time to answer some questions for our GEMS in Portraits series. He is by no means a background character of GEMS, his victory in the 2019 PhD Cup has brought him a lot of fame. We are of course very proud to have him as a GEMS member. Jonas completed his PhD on sodomy in the late medieval and early modern Southern Low Countries in 2018 and currently teaches at the KASK/HoGent and will take up a position to teach gender history at the Radboud University in Nijmegen. What’s more, he has just been awarded a FWO postdoc mandate, which enables him to continue his research at the UGent history department. Let’s hear what inspires this ambitious researcher.

How did your interest in your research arise?
Honestly, there are a lot of coincidences involved in the fact that I am doing research into early modern sodomy. About a decade ago, I was desperately looking for a subject for my bachelor paper. As a student, I quite liked the ‘big city life’ Ghent had to offer and, consequently, I had postponed the decision about my research topic to the very last minute. The night before the deadline, my eye caught Germain Greer’s coffee table book The Boy, about the fleeting beauty of boys throughout the ages. Rather impulsively, I decided to write a paper about homoeroticism in Italian Renaissance art. Never have I been more grateful for my tendency to procrastinate than that day. Besides coffee table books, a complete field of research about same-sex desires in the past unfolded before my eyes. The paper led to a thesis about the impact of two sodomy trials on the formation of an urban memory in early modern Ghent and that thesis eventually led to my PhD dissertation. 

Detail from ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’ by Hieronymus Bosch (c.1490-1500). Museo del Prado, P002823.

Do you consider your research to be interdisciplinary?
From its onset, the field of gender studies has indeed been a very interdisciplinary field of research, so naturally, I also try to pursue this in my own research. In my PhD for instance, I not only wanted to chart the number of sodomy trials in the early modern Southern Netherlands, I also wanted to analyse the urban perception of sodomy. To do so, I collected a wide corpus of sources, ranging from legal documents such as witness reports, interrogations, sentences, accounts etc, to religious treatises, song texts, urban chronicles, engravings, demonological texts and so on. I have tried to write a broad cultural history, applying methods derived from the fields of gender history, legal history, urban history, art history, the history of literature, et cetera.

Have you ever experienced an eureka moment in your research?
I distinctly remember my very first eureka moment, but that was back in the days when I was still writing my master’s thesis. I found an intriguing manuscript in the Ghent University Library describing the execution of several mendicants in 1578. I stormed out the reading room to call my partner: ‘I’ve found something, brilliant!’ Throughout the years, I more or less revived that initial sensation whenever I found a new trial record. But every single time, after a few minutes it dawned on me that ‘Eureka’ is perhaps an inappropriate term because these archival finds deal with actual human beings that were horribly punished for their sexual desires.

What is the most inspiring study you have read recently?
For the past year and a half, I have mainly been teaching a various range of classes at different universities. This involves a lot of work, but after years of focussing on one specific topic, it is also very stimulating to immerse oneself in different themes in a short period of time. Therefore, I decided to catch up on some of the classics in the field of cultural history. Peter Burke’s ‘The Fabrication of Louis XIV’, which focusses on the strategy deployed to create a public image of Louis XIV remains relevant to students today because it allows students to compare how politicians today are constantly creating their public image. In the field of gender history, I really enjoyed the special issue of Transgender Studies Quarterly (vol. 5. no. 4, 2018) because it focusses on ‘transhistory’, an emerging subdiscipline in the field of gender history. In my opinion, courses in gender history still tend to focus too much on the binary opposition between male and female without taking into account that, both nowadays and in the past, people were aware of a much broader spectrum of gender identities.

by Renée Vulto

GEMS in portraits: Yannice De Bruyn

Busy times (ahead) for Yannice De Bruyn. Finishing a PhD while being a young mother isn’t particularly a walk in the park. Therefore, I was very pleased that she still could find the time for a chat via Skype. Yannice works as a PhD student in the Departments of Literary Studies of the UGent and the VUB (through a joint PhD). She is part of the Dutch-Belgian ITEMP cooperation, in which two PhD students and four promotors are involved. ITEMP stands for ‘Imagineering violence, techniques of early modern performativity in the Northern and Southern Netherlands (1630-1690)’ (see The aim of the project is to investigate how violence was represented in the early modern Low Countries. In her PhD, Yannice focuses on the ‘how and why’ of the representation of violence in the theatre, particularly by means of four case studies of siege plays. Through the concept of ‘imagineering’, a combination of ‘imagining’ and ‘engineering’, she shows that the representation and imagination of siege were always in interaction. There was no ‘reality’ of siege independent of how it was depicted onstage and throughout other media. Its performance in the theatre shaped the audience’s perception and created expectations that in their turn shaped other representations of the subject. Yannice is now in the final phase of her PhD, which she hopes to have defended by the end of the ongoing academic year. The right moment to shoot some of the questions she actually helped to invent a couple of years ago.

Romeyn de Hooghe – engraving for Govard Bidloo’s De France Wreetheyt, tot Bodegrave, en Swammerdam (1672)
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POSTPONED: Ghent-Lille Research Colloquium in Early Modern Studies: Emotions, Passions and Cultures of Feeling


Friday, March 13th, 9AM-5PMVendredi 13 mars, 9h-17h

Gand-Lille Colloque de recherche en études de l’époque moderne: Émotions, passions et cultures du sentiment

Ghent University, meeting room “Simon Stevin” , Rozier-Plateau building (entrance Plateaustraat 22, Gent – left corridor).

Université de Gand, salle “Simon Stevin”. Bâtiment Rozier-Plateau (entrée Plateaustraat 22, Gand – couloir gauche).

This colloquium is a collaboration between researchers from the Université de Lille and Ghent University. Together they investigate (early) modern conceptions of emotions, the representation of passions and the relationship between these representation and (early) modern cultures of emotions.

Ce colloque est une collaboration entre des chercheurs de l’Université de Lille et de l’Université de Gand. Dans leurs contributions, ils discutent les conceptions des émotions, la représentation des passions et la relation entre la représentation et es cultures des émotions du XVIe à la première moitié du XIXe siècle.

Registration before Monday March 9th (not necessary for speakers and chairs):

L’inscription est obligatoire avant le lundi 9 mars (excepte les conférenciers et les présidents):

Session 1: Chair / président: Fiona McIntosh-Varjabédian (Université de Lille)

9:30     Frédéric Briot (Université de Lille): Passion et complexe du tout dans Sémélé, tragédie lyrique de Marin Marais (1709)

10:00   Delphine Calle (UGent): Racine ou la dramaturgie de l’amour

10:30   Questions & discussion

11:00   Break / Pause

Session 2: Chair / président: Cornelis van der Haven (UGent)

11:30   Tom Laureys (UGent): Rational revenge? The navigation of the passions in a

            Dutch Medea tragedy (1667)
12:00   Timothy Vergeer (Universiteit Leiden): ‘Vengeance is mine’. Revenge, Honour,

and Spanish Drama in the Low Countries (1617-1672)

12:30   Questions & discussion

13:00   Lunch / déjeuner

Session 3: Chair / président: Alison Boulanger (Université de Lille)

14:00   Emilie Picherot (Université de Lille): La passion arabicante de Nicolas Clénard

de Louvain à Fez (1495-1542)

14:30   Steven Vanden Broecke (UGent): Astrological management of the

passions and Catholic spirituality in 17th-century France: Jean-Baptiste Morin’s Astrologia Gallica (1661)

15:00   Questions & discussion

15:30   Break / pause

Session 4: Chair / président: Jürgen Pieters (UGent)

16:00   Fiona McIntosh-Varjabédian (Université de Lille): Consolate, disconsolate: of

harrowing experiences in 19th Century Novels

16:30   Caroline Grapa (Université de Lille): LEssai sur Sénèque: éthique et politique du sujet

16:30   Questions & discussion

17:00   Discussion about future cooperation / projects

            Discussion sur la coopération / projets futures

17:30   Closure / fin

This colloquium is made possible through funding from the Joint Call Ghent and Lille / Hauts-de-France 2019 project: ‘LIVES’