GEMS in portraits: Thomas Van der Goten

Frost Fair portrait of Anne 1716
We close the summer of 2017 with a portrait of Thomas Van der Goten, who recently received his PhD with a thesis on the eighteenth-century English ode. His dissertation offered a revisionist and genre-theoretical study of a large body of odes, providing 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. His interests range from classical as well as early modern and Romantic literature, over lyric poetry, to print culture, material culture, book history, and the history of reading. As a passionate dix-huitiemist, he is currently working on a postdoc application on the poetry of occasions in eighteenth-century Britain. GEMS wishes him the best of luck!

How did your interest for your research arise?

I have always been fascinated by the intersections between the various social, cultural, political, religious, and material contexts in which the written (or spoken) word was embedded in the early modern period. I would say that most of my research is a reflection of that interest, but part of it is also motivated in response to what I think is a somewhat misguided conception of how ‘literature’ functioned prior to the Romantic movement. I am constantly drawn to the unwritten histories of what people in the early modern period read and wrote, the medially and modally experimental as well as the hugely popular forms of literary practice–all manner of things generally ignored by scholars in the past. That is why I think text-image hybrids, in verse or prose, produced on the occasion of festivals, fairs, and other popular events, can be as revealing as the canonical works that are still widely read today. It’s from this double orientation that most of my research arises, partly out of pure interest, partly out of a self-imposed sense of necessity.

Do you consider your research in general as interdisciplinary?

In my dissertation on the ode, I adopted a combination of the sort of quantitative approach you usually find in book-historical scholarship with a more traditional approach which was inflected as much by ‘old,’ that is, empirical, archival historicism as by cultural materialism. Even though I am mostly interested in conventional subjects such as genre, canonization, and literary tradition, I think my methodology is definitely interdisciplinary. Literary scholars have always benefited from other, related disciplines such as art, science, and music, so I believe funding bodies would do well to offer continued encouragement to scholars wishing to explore further interdisciplinary avenues. The broader interdisciplinary perspective generally delivers an account that is, in my opinion, much more enjoyable to read.

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

I think one of the benefits of conducting the kind of empirical research that I enjoy doing is that you regularly experience brief moments of discovery because you are constantly trying to complete the puzzle that is your historical narrative, with as much attention to detail as possible. One of the most rewarding aspects in that respect is chronology. Like a true detective, I once tried to piece together the landscape of poetry production in the months following the death of Queen Anne in 1714. With the help of archival material from the British Library and a wealth of data from the online Burney collection of eighteenth-century newspapers, I was able to reconstruct on a day-to-day basis the public response to one of the most momentous monarchical transitions in the history of British royalty. It really felt as a modest revelatory moment when I was able to situate the poetry publications on a two-month timeline and trace the shifting attitudes from old monarch to new in a way that reduced the historical distance in such a way as to make it almost tangible, human, and strangely familiar. I honestly believe that the thrill of doing this kind of historical exploration can be more rewarding than historical fiction, simply because you are dealing with real people and events. Every nugget of information you encounter can serve to complete the story you are drafting and each, in a way, can be a ‘Eureka moment’ in itself.

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

Even though I could—and probably should—give you a whole list of books that shaped the way I think about certain subjects or that I enjoyed for their scholarship, scope, or style (a list that would include names such as Pat Rogers, Sandro Jung, and Claude Rawson), there is one study that comes to mind immediately: James A. Winn’s Queen Anne: Patroness of Arts (2014). Much more than a straightforward biography of the queen, as the title would suggest, this book really is a chronicle of the times in which she lived and reigned, immensely detailed and richly illustrated with visual and musical examples. The book comes with a companion website featuring recordings of musical pieces by such famous composers as Giovanni Baptista Draghi and Henry Purcell, all produced anew by a Boston-based team of specialists in early modern music. Winn’s interdisciplinary approach to historical research is precisely what makes his work so captivating. The book is 816 pages long and weighs a ton, but I relished every second of reading it; the reader is taken on a journey through late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century Britain, with no stone of political intrigue or ceremonial spectacle left unturned. Incidentally, I am currently reading another of Winn’s biographies: John Dryden and His World (1987), but naturally it is not nearly as abundant in material as the Queen Anne book. Although a comparison between these two biographies might be a little unfair, it just goes to show that we are now much more capable of using innovative, technological tools such as websites, podcasts, and apps to enrich our experience of reading about the early modern period, its people, and its literature.

 Thomas Van der Goten and Sarah Adams

The image is an engraved portrait of Queen Anne by I. Sympson after a design by G. Kneller. Below the image with twenty lines of engraved verse, the imprint says “Printed on ye River of Thame Jan. ye 23th 1715/16,” an indication that this sheet was issued at that winter’s Frost Fair.


Workshop theatre historiography

GEMS and THALIA would like to inform you of the following workshop, which is organised by members Kornee van der Haven, Sarah Adams and Yannice De Bruyn:

On 13 October 2017 we organize a workshop on theatre historiography in Amsterdam (UvA). Our primary aim is to offer PhD students working on historical theatre and performance a platform to discuss methodological difficulties they encounter in their research. It is a perfect occasion for peer discussion and feedback from more experienced scholars and dramaturgs. By means of introduction, Imre Bésanger (Theater Kwast) will outline his approach to methodology in his work with historical theatre texts. Kornee van der Haven (UGent) will moderate a discussion of Erika Fischer-Lichte’s views on theatre historiography.

Please find the (Dutch) program hereSarah Adams can provide you with more information and/or register your participation.

The image is a 3D visualisation of the Tapissiers theatre in Antwerp (1711) © Timothy De Paepe, 2007-2017.


Cervantes’ Hermetic Architectures – a lecture by Frederick de Armas (University of Chicago)

Date: Friday, 13 October 2017
Time: 2.30 pm
Location: Auditorium 1 Jan Broeckx (previously Auditorium A) at the Blandijn, campus Boekentoren, Ghent university

Cervantes’ Hermetic Architectures

Frederick A. de Armas
University of Chicago

Cervantes’ novels are peopled with characters constantly on the move, always going from here to there, pursuing amorous, spiritual, picaresque or chivalric quests. Since these figures often move outside cities, the architectures of Cervantes’ novels are few. As such they call attention to themselves and we may inquire as to their presence and function. While the Inn is one of the most prevalent architectures, it is a hybrid one, combining inside and outside. I am more interested in the home, villa, castle or church in order to see if indeed they abide by the concepts of place and space as delineated Yi-Fu Tuan: “Place is security space is freedom; we are attached to the one and long for the other.” Thus, the architectures in the novel should be equated with security. Can these places guard from the danger outside? Or do these hermetic sites wall-in certain dangers? Can some of these spaces evoke Hermes through the Corpus Hermeticum, thus concealing hermetic mysteries? As a first step in this analysis I will look at a sample of hermetic architectures in Don Quijote, Novelas ejemplares, and Persiles y Sigismunda.

GEMS in portraits: Jonathan Regier

MC_KeplerThis spring, GEMS was more than happy to welcome Jonathan Regier as a new member. We seized the opportunity to ask him who inspires him and what drives him in his research. Jonathan did his PhD in history and philosophy of science at Université Paris Diderot, with a thesis titled Cause in Kepler’s Natural Philosophy. Afterwards, he joined Hong Kong University of Science and Technology as a post-doctoral fellow at their Institute for Advanced Study. In early 2017, he came to UGent with a BOF fellowship. He will begin an FWO fellowship in October 2017 at UGent, in the department of philosophy and moral sciences. His academic interests revolve around the mathematisation of natural philosophy in the sixteenth century.

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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:, 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.

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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:

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 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 ( 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.