Lecture Prof. em. Marinus Burcht Pranger

Lecture Prof. em. Marinus Burcht Pranger (University of Amsterdam): Inside Augustine

Date: Wednesday May 17, 3-5pm

Location: Faculty Room, Blandijn

We are very pleased to announce that Prof. em. Marinus Burcht Pranger (University of Amsterdam) will visit our faculty as part of a workshop, organized by the Latin section, the Henri Pirenne Institute and GEMS. On Wednesday May 17, he will give a public lecture on the notions of ‘absorption’ and ‘theatricality’ in the Confessiones by Augustine. He will read this text in interaction with Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot and Inspector Morse. Below, you can find a short biography and an abstract.

The lecture (in English) will take place from 15.00 to 17.00 in the Faculty Room (‘Faculteitszaal Blandijn’) at the first floor. Afterwards, there will be a reception.

You are most cordially invited to attend the lecture. We hope to see you then.

Tim Noens and Wim Verbaal


M.B. Pranger is Professor emeritus at the Faculty of Humanities of the University of Amsterdam. He is an authority in Christian literature of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. His most well-known works are Bernard of Clairvaux and the Shape of Monastic Thought (Brill, 1994), The Artificiality of Christianity (Stanford, 2003) and Eternity’s Ennui (Brill, 2010). In his research, he continuously places early Christian literature into a dialogue with works from divergent historical periods: he jumps from Anselmus to Samuel Beckett, from Henry James to Augustine, from Gerard Reve to Bernardus of Clairvaux, etc. Using such a broad perspective, he succeeds at offering innovative insights and challenging conventions, assumptions and interpretations which have (too easily?) been taken for granted in scholarship.



This paper proposes a reading of Augustine’s Confessions with the assistance of the notions of absorption and theatricality. The very use of those notions is meant to counterbalance the readings generated by our over-familiarity with Augustinian interiority. By replacing interiority with a concept that is alien to the Augustinian vocabulary, it becomes possible to block facile access to mystical interpretations of the Confessions on the one hand, and to embark upon the (admittedly challenging) task of reassessing the nature of “confessing” on the other. This new reading brings to the surface a number of aporias in approaching a confessor who is fully involved in his act of sustained confessing. A comparison is also made with the notion of absorption in the visual arts. Just as spectatordom becomes problematic vis-à-vis a painting whose personae look inward rather than outward, so too the position of the reader vis-à-vis a text whose confessing creator uninterruptedly addresses his Confessee demands a redefinition of the reader’s role and place in the process.

Lecture Alexander Winkler 24 May 2017

We are pleased to announce a special lecture of our GEMS-Guest Alexander Winkler (University of Bonn, Germany), who will be a guest researcher at the Literature Department (Italian literature) in the coming weeks. The lecture will take place on Wednesday, May 24th, 10-11 AM, in the Faculty Library (Magnel-wing), room ‘Freddy Mortier’. Alexander Winkler will speak about Neo-Latin tobacco literature of the 16th century

A smoky journey through Neo-Latin tobacco literature

When the tobacco plant first arrived in Europe in the 16th century, it was praised for its beneficial properties. Doctors and pharmacologists carefully described its curative effects and uses. Soon, however, tobacco became a social phenomenon, consumed and valued not primarily for medical reasons. This habit was heavily criticised by some and vehemently defended by others all over Europe and in almost any language. Neo-Latin literature can boast of some of the most ingenious contributions to this debate. In my talk, I am going to provide a general survey of these texts and present two of the most ambitious literary works in greater detail.

Alexander Winkler is research assistant for Medieval and Neo-Latin Philology at the University of Bonn. Previously, he was research assistant at the department for Romance Languages and Literatures. He holds an MA in Classics and Italian from the University of Munich as well as an MA in the Culture of the European Renaissance from the University of Warwick, and is currently working on a PhD thesis on the Italian 16th century humanist Pietro Angeli da Barga.


Seminar (Atelier) April 19th – Youri Desplenter and Thomas Van der Goten

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017, 2-4 PM. Faculty Library Arts & Philosophy, Magnel-wing, Room “Freddy Mortier”

Youri Desplenter – Dutch Bible Translations in the Manuscript Era: Provenance and Structures of Dissemination

From the Middle Dutch manuscripts with bible translations, we learn that these texts were not just translated ‘somewhere’, and then distributed and copied. Almost every single time such a translation was ‘copied’, it was revised, often to such an extent that it becomes unclear if we have to consider the new ‘copy’ as a textual witness of the old version, or as a new translation. To understand this way of handing down Middle Dutch bible translations, we need to have insight into the dynamics which influenced these texts. In this presentation, I will try to establish which were the centers where biblical texts were translated, when these were active, and who in other words determined who used which translation. As these centers have been coming to the surface only recently, the overall patterns – unlike those of printed bible translations – have not been clear until now.

 Thomas Van der Goten – A Revisionist, Genre-Theoretical and Historical Study of the British Ode in the Long Eighteenth Century, 1680-1830

In his presentation, Thomas will explore some of the outcomes of his current research project, which aims to produce a revisionist, genre-theoretical study of the British ode in the eighteenth century. Promoting an inclusive, quantitative as well as qualitative examination of canonical and non-canonical odes, the project seeks to offer a nuanced account of the range and variety of the genre, its engagement with literary tradition, and its place in the proliferating market for printed poetry.


GEMS-members do not need to register for this meeting. Colleagues with an interest in the early modern period who are not a member of GEMS can join us too (after a short notice to: cornelis.vanderhaven@ugent.be, because of the limited space in the reserved rooms).

GEMS in portraits: Teodoro Katinis


In our March issue we sketch a portrait of our newest GEMS-member Teodoro Katinis. Teodoro holds a PhD in Italian (Johns Hopkins University) and philosophy (Università degli Studi Roma Tre), and is now a research professor of Italian Literature at Ghent University, where he aims to study vernacular medical texts of the 16th and 17th centuries. Teodoro has widely published on Renaissance culture and philosophy, the early modern dialogue, medical history and literature. He published his first monograph Medicina e filosofia in Marsilio Ficino: il Consilio contro la pestilentia in 2007 and is currently finishing a second book on the rebirth of sophistry in the Italian Renaissance.


How did your interest for medical history and philosophy arise?

Although medicine is a recurring theme in my research, I would not be able to do the job of a physician or an exact scientist. Much more, my fascination concerns the relation between medicine, arts and language. I am interested in the human psyche and body, and more specifically in how they are represented in and go together with visual or expressive arts and philosophy. I was surprised to learn that my PhD research on medicine and philosophy in Marsilio Ficino’s work was one of the first studies on this humanist that combined the history of medicine, Italian literature and philosophy. Ficino’s advice against the plague (1481) is interesting not only from a philosophical-historical perspective. It is also important from a socio-historical perspective, because it was one of the first books printed in vernacular, thus attracting all social strata. My first monograph was a modern edition of this advice with an extensive introduction on the text (style and content) and its sources. I hope to publish an English revision in the future, and to dig deeper into the rhetoric that guaranteed this wide dissemination of medical knowledge.

Do you consider your research in general as interdisciplinary?

There is, of course, no fixed methodology (whatever works), yet my experience shows that interdisciplinary research is both productive and instructive. During my PhD research, I found myself working at the crossroads of philology, philosophy, (art) history, medical history of epidemics and even anthropology. However, I never asked myself which discipline my work was ‘most’ entitled to and this proved to be a fruitful way of doing research. Not only did I learn much about diverse academic fields, I also noticed that my monograph reached a broad audience of history scholars, scholars of medical history, Renaissance studies, philosophy, et cetera. I believe academics should always try to write for ‘everyone’ (as far as this is possible).

Have you ever experienced a ‘eureka moment’ during your research?

Absolutely! At John Hopkins University, I worked on the Renaissance dialogue (a very popular topic in the United States) and read Apologia dei dialoghi by Sperone Speroni (1500-1588), looking for a theory of dialogue. What I found instead, was a discussion about ancient sophists and their perspectives. That led me to explore further in this direction and to discover two of the most amazing texts I have ever read: Speroni’s In difesa dei sofisti (In Defense of Sophists) and Contra Socrate (Against Socrates). And that is when I cried ‘eureka’: Speroni was on the exact same line as Plato (4th century BC) and Nietzsche (1844-1900)! Speroni’s dialogues are an explicit rehabilitation of the platonic dialogues on the one hand, and, at the same time, reading Speroni is like ‘reading Nietzsche before Nietzsche’. Speroni’s attack on Socrates’ philosophy is the most striking part of my discovery. Scholars invariably believed that before Nietzsche no one had been brave enough to look at the points where Socrates might have been wrong. Now it seems that Speroni’s critique precedes Nietzsche’s and stands as the most explicit attempt to rehabilitate the ancient sophists since Antiquity.

What is the most inspiring (literary) study you have ever read? And the most recent one?

Cesare Pavese’s Dialoghi con Leucò (1947) is the most original and inspiring book I have ever read. The book is a reworking of Greek and sometimes Roman mythology, written in a personal way, but based on profound scholarly knowledge of the subject. It consists of very short enigmatic dialogues between mythological figures. Dialoghi con Leucò touches upon several aspects of life, such as aggressiveness, eros, pain, motherhood (also Freudian), the divine, morality, and so on. Pavese’s presentation and interpretation of classical myths becomes an essential tool to understand ourselves and society today. If I will ever write an unscholarly book, Pavese’s work will be my model.

More recently, I read Eric MacPhail’s The Sophistic Renaissance (Genève 2011), a study on the rebirth of sophistry in early modern Latin and French literature. I liked this study very much for two reasons. Firstly, it is the only book completely dedicated to this subject. It has become a standard work with good reason. Secondly, and strangely enough, the book was inspiring for its lack of vernacular Italian sophistic literature of the Renaissance. I now hope my own research could somehow complete Eric’s work. He is still working on the subject, and it is nice to have an interlocutor with whom I keep in touch. I invited him as a keynote speaker for the conference The Sophistic Renaissance: Authors, Texts, Interpretations that I organised in Venice (September 26, 2015), for instance. That conference also attracted Master students. With one of them I have just submitted an FWO-proposal, hoping to open a new path of research in this field.

About the image:
One of the characters in Cesare Pavese’s Dialoghi con Leucò (1947) is Odysseus. Teodoro Katinis attests that the mythical figure Odysseus somehow reflects several aspects of his research and personal life, including travelling, both intellectually and materially. This is a statue from the villa of Tiberius at Sperlonga, Italy (Museo Archeologico Nazionale).

By Sarah Adams

GEMS Seminar: Alexander Roose inspired by… Natalie Zemon Davis

Wednesday March 15th, 2017, 14-16h. Faculty of Engineering and Architecture, J. Plateaustraat 22. Meeting room ‘Simon Stevin’.

Registration is not required for GEMS-members. Non-members who wish to attend can sign-up with Kornee van der Haven: cornelis.vanderhaven@ugent.be.

For this seminar we will read some chapters from The Return of Martin Guerre (if you would like to receive scans of the book, please contact Kornee).

Natalie Zemon Davis is a major Renaissance scholar and her book Return of Martin Guerre is an extraordinary reconstruction of an imposture in a sixteenth-century French village. Her essay epitomizes the micro-historical approach, but is also an analysis of the social conditions that produced this a bizarre affair.


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. There are categories of these meetings (see schedule on https://gemsugent.wordpress.com/category/seminars/). First there are the Ateliers during which GEMS-members or guests present their research projects, recent publications or ideas for future projects. Who is 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 (cornelis.vanderhaven@ugent.be). 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. The work of at least three important thinkers will be at the fore in the following sessions of Inspired by…: Michel de Certeau (by Prof. Steven Vanden Broecke on December 14th, 2016), Natalie Zemon Davis (by Prof. Alexander Roose on March 15th, 2017) and Alan Sinfield (by Prof. Kornee van der Haven on June 7th, 2017).

Foucault seminar

foucault5Coming June, Ghent University doctoral schools will offer the seminar Practicing Foucault : truth, conduct and politics. It is intended for PhD students in the humanities (history, literary studies, philosophy) whose research can benefit from an encounter with the work of Michel Foucault.

The seminar’s format combines masterclasses of external speakers with presentations by PhD students and discussions of Foucault’s lectures. Lecturers are Maarten Van Dyck (Ghent University), Steven Vanden Broecke (Ghent University), Jean-Lucien Sanchez (CNRS), Florence Hulak (Université Paris 8), and Luca Paltrinieri (Université de Rennes).

The language of the course will be bilingual English / French. The maximum number of participants is 20. The exact dates of the seminar are June 22, 29 and 30, 2017. 

For more information, click here. For registration, please contact Egon Bauwelinck.

Workshop Techniques of Theatre and: Theatre as a Technique


On March 22nd, 2017 THALIA, GEMS, and the research group ITEMP organise the workshop  ‘Techniques of Theatre and: Theatre as a Technique’. It is intended for pre-docs, PhD’s and post-docs, especially in the field of theatre studies and theatre history.

The full-day programme consists of two parts. During the morning session we will focus on methodological issues brought forth by theatrical case studies. How to interpret primary sources and how to deal with lacunas in our research about theatre and/or theatrical events in history? The afternoon session will concentrate on theatre as a technique for knowledge production. Which techniques are used by the theatre to engender insight, from early modernity until the present? The entire programme can be consulted here: workshop-techniques-of-theatre-and-theatre-as-a-technique.

The teachers are Jan Lazardzig (UvA, Netherlands), Kurt Vanhoutte (University of Antwerp) and Karel Vanhaesebrouck (VUB/ULB/RITCS, Brussels). The workshop will take place in the ‘Library Lab’ of the Faculty Library Arts & Philosophy at Ghent University. Registration is still open, interested researchers can contact Yannice De Bruyn (Yannice.DeBruyn@ugent.be) for more information.

GEMS in portraits: Astrid Van Assche


Portrait of Julie d’Angennes by Claude Deruet, 1630

To kick off a whole new year of GEMS in portraits we sat down with Astrid Van Assche, doctoral researcher at the department of French Literature. Astrid’s PhD focusses on the early seventeenth-century salon culture and studies the gallant letters circulating in the Parisian Hôtel de Rambouillet. This subject is a continuation of research she conducted in her bachelor’s and master’s dissertations. After graduating in 2013 as a Master of Linguistics and Literature (French-Dutch), Astrid continued studying at Ghent University to obtain her teacher training degree. In 2014 her PhD proposal was accredited with a BOF scholarship.

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Seminar (Atelier) February 15th – Teodoro Katinis and Michiel Van Dam

Wednesday February 15th, 2017. 14-16h. Faculty Library Arts & Philosophy, Magnel-wing, Room ‘Freddy Mortier’.

Registration is not required for GEMS-members. Non-members who wish to attend can sign-up with Kornee van der Haven.

Michiel Van Dam – Governing through history: Foucault, political reason and historical knowledge

During the eighteenth century, speaking about the past of the polity was often inevitably political, as the political culture of the late ancien régime had as its premise the unaltered preservation and continuity of its ancient institutions throughout history. To interpret the past – for example, by distributing agency, authority and legitimacy across a set of historical actors –, was to interpret the present itself. As such, historians studying the politics of the early modern past have usually focused on reconstructing the ideological claims made by the intellectual combatants, which were hidden beneath the façade of the truthful historical narrative. What I wish to discuss in this presentation, is the possibility of approaching the political history of eighteenth-century historiography in a different manner, one where the focus is not so much put on the past’s function in the formation of political identity or authority-claims. More specifically, I want to ask the question whether we can approach historical discourse through the framework of governmentality. In his lectures at the Collège de France at the end of the 1970’s, Michel Foucault (1926-1984) introduced the concept of ‘governmentality’, where he redirected his attention towards historical practices of “conducting conduct”. Starting from the early modern ‘art of government’ as a representative of a third mechanism of power (alongside sovereignty and discipline), Foucault was able to put in focus an original field of study, embodied by the intricate relation between the rise of the early modern state, increasingly secularized concerns with popular social conduct, and the political rationality which shaped the state’s response to such conduct. Not much scholarly attention has been given to the question of which forms of knowledge – apart from those discussed by Foucault himself, such as the political-economic theories of the French physiocrates – lent itself to eighteenth-century governmental analyses of conduct. It is my intention to investigate the role played by the past in such governmental discourses. By discussing a number of sources which originated in the Austrian Netherlands (1715-1794), I hope to show the fruitfulness of this concept for the study of the early modern politics of the past.

Teodoro Katinis – The Italian Medical Literature in Early Modern Europe (c.1500-c.1700): Authors, Texts, Public

This project’s main aim is to accomplish the first comprehensive analysis of the most widespread Italian medical works published and translated from 16th to 17th century. Any genre of medical literature may play a role in this project whose overall objective is twofold: 1) to provide an analysis of the rhetorical strategies and language that convey the contents of the most popular Italian works; 2) to examine how these works addressed the needs of a very broad public of any social class, gender, and age, anticipating the modern approach to the communication of scientific knowledge. Although the plague was the most urgent concern in the early modern age, the texts on plague were not the only ones to change in language, method, and content. Furthermore, several physicians also wrote works to improve the vernacular as a language for scientific knowledge. In the 16th and 17th century the most original Italian authors published their works in Venice from where the they spread through Europe thanks to the translation in English, French, Spanish, German, Dutch, and Latin. Indeed, this project has also the ambition to recover the legacy of these works abroad.

Seminar (Inspired by…) December 14th – Steven Vanden Broecke inspired by… Michel de Certeau

Wednesday December 14th, 2016. 14-16h. Faculty Library Arts & Philosophy, Magnel-wing, Room ‘Freddy Mortier’.

Registration is not required for GEMS-members. Non-members who wish to attend can sign-up with Kornee van der Haven.

To be situated amongst the greatest thinkers of the twentieth century, Michel de Certeau started developing his cultural-historical philosophy out of a profound interest for historiography. Himself a historian, he never lost sight of the existential ambivalence of his profession. Reality as it ‘really happened’ is forever out of sight for Certeau, and is only accessible by means of interpretation. Even if the latter “carries more falseness than truth.” Interpretation, narrative, discourse – writing about history is making history. It is a fundamentally political act. The raw reality of the experience past or present, is illegible without a pre-existing frame of interpretation, submission is a prerequisite for knowledge. Like Foucault’s, Certeau’s philosophy revolves around the axiom that discourse is antecedent to individual perception.

During this GEMS seminar Certeau’s erudite and sometimes densely written essays will be elucidated by Steven Vanden Broecke. Steven will trace his fascination for the French Jesuit philosopher, whose work is as relevant today as when it was written. For historians and social scientists in general and for early modernists in particular, considering the substantial share of writings on the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Christian mystics.