Call for New Members, Proposals and Ideas

The Group for Early Modern Studies (GEMS) at Ghent University is currently recruiting new members, both inside and outside of the UGhent community, and is interested in hearing both formal and informal expressions of interest for how you might want to participate in our upcoming events. GEMS strives for an inclusive community of scholars at all stages of their careers and from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds (please see below for our Mission Statement). GEMS hosts a variety of talks, workshops and gatherings, including traditional lectures; works-in-progress ateliers; book launches; and “inspired by…” sessions, in which one member leads a discussion around a given theorist, text or object that has been central to his or her thinking as a scholar and/or teacher. We remain open, however, to other ideas and approaches. We would be especially pleased to hear expressions of interest from junior scholars working on early modern topics from different disciplinary perspectives who might be interested in discussing and presenting their research. 

Please send an email, containing a bit about yourself, your research interests, and how you might like to participate or contribute (e.g., through an abstract or informal proposal), to Prof. Andrew Bricker (Dept. of Literary Studies, UGent: by Monday, 28 October 2019.

GEMS Mission Statement
The research carried out in the Group for Early Modern Studies is marked by its focus on the early modern period, by its interdisciplinary engagements, and by a shared concern for methodological reflection. Central in this respect is the historical tension that we perceive between the early modern phenomena that we study and the late-modern framework guiding our research questions and methodologies. The historical relationship between the past and the way we address it (a relationship that works in both directions) is one of the central concerns of GEMS. We welcome senior and junior scholars at Ghent University and from other institutions. Junior researchers play an important role both in shaping the group’s direction and by participating in its activities.

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GEMS in portraits: Christophe Madelein

Last Thursday, I had my very own Madelein moment, although not in the way Marcel had it in À la recherche du temps perdu. I got the opportunity to sit down with Christophe Madelein for an interview and some coffees at Vooruit. Christophe did both his PhD and his Postdoc at Ghent University. He also worked as a guest professor at the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen and the Arteveldehogeschool Gent, and was Brueghel Chair at the University of Pennsylvania. Although Christophe is currently unaffiliated, he is still very busy doing research, especially on the poetry of Hubert Korneliszoon Poot. Moreover, he is one of the editors of the Jaarboek Achttiende Eeuw and a jury member for the study group’s thesis prize. We talked about theatre, his book discussion club in Lokeren, and our shared interest in providentialism. And of course, I also had some by now familiar questions to ask.

Hubert Kornelisz. Poot – Op de hoge watervloed, omtrent het einde des jaars MDCCXVII
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In the picture: Brandt’s De Veinzende Torquatus (1645), Providentially Assigned Stadtholders and the Politics of Rational Deception by Tom Laureys

GEMS researchers are frequently publishing new articles, books, book chapters, edited volumes and blogs. In ‘in the picture’ we put a spotlight on a recent publication of one of our members.

Tom Laureys, “‘I, Who Used to Serve as Jupiter’s Lightning on Earth’: Geeraerdt Brandt’s De Veinzende Torquatus (1645), Providentially Assigned Stadtholders and the Politics of Rational Deception” in Dutch Crossing. Journal of Low Countries Studies (2019).

In this article, I show that Geeraerdt Brandt’s popular Dutch revenge tragedy De veinzende Torquatus (‘The feigning Torquatus’, 1645) engages with the political debates concerning the rightful succession of monarchs based on primogeniture, and – be it in a grotesque, even parodic way – the Calvinistic belief that the Dutch stadtholders were God’s providential instruments, assigned to guide His chosen people. Moreover, I show that the play offers a confrontation between two conflicting conceptions of power. The play’s eponymous protagonist holds what I call an intellectual (idealistic) conception of power, in which man’s rational faculty, including his capacity for rational deception, is all-decisive. This vision, though, clashes with the more physical (materialistic) conceptualization of power which Torquatus’s antagonist Noron upholds. I’m pretty proud about this publication, since it is my first A1 article and the manuscript was accepted by the reviewers without further remarks. The review process took about five months, but I was astonished by the speed with which the actual production took place. Within a couple of days, the article was available online. Soon it will be allocated to a specific issue in print.

In the picture: “Enhancing the Research on Sophistry in the Renaissance” by Teodoro Katinis

GEMS researchers are frequently publishing new articles, books, book chapters, edited volumes and blogs. In ‘in the picture’ we put a spotlight on a recent publication of one of our members.

Teodoro Katinis, “Enhancing the Research on Sophistry in the Renaissance” in T. Katinis (ed.), The Sophistic Renaissance: Authors, Texts, Interpretations, in Philosophical Readings XI.2 (2019), special issue, 58-62.

“My contribution introduces the first collection of essays ever published on the legacy of ancient sophists in the Latin and vernacular Renaissance, and considers possible research developments in the field over the next years. This collection is the final result of a conference held at Ca’ Foscari University (Venice 2016) that I organized at the end of my Marie Curie fellowship to gather international experts to discuss a very understudied subject: the rebirth of sophistry in early modern Europe. This Philosophical Readings special issue, which is an open-access online publication, can interest scholars and students from several fields, including intellectual history, classical reception studies, neo-Latin and romance languages literature, and history of philosophy, among others. I hope this work  will encourage young researches and colleagues to further the investigation of the fascinating way in which the ‘villains’ of the ancient culture (according to Plato and Aristotle) became a subject of debate and fundamental reference from 15th to 17th-century to discuss skepticism, relativism and the power of rhetoric.” 

GEMS in portraits: Annemieke Romein

If there is someone who is not afraid to cross geographical and disciplinary borders, it’s Annemieke Romein, whose research on legislation texts in the seventeenth century has not only brought her from the Netherlands to Ghent, it also took her to Germany, Switzerland, and from the archives to the digital humanities. Annemieke completed her studies and PhD at Erasmus University Rotterdam and is currently a NWO Rubicon-fellow working at the UGhent Department of History. Additionally, she is Researcher-in-Residence at the National Library (KB) in The Hague working with digital humanities methods to improve the searchability of early modern legislation texts. Over a coffee in the Vooruit, we discussed how vital it is to conduct comparative research, and how energizing interdisciplinary work can be.

Handwritten ‘vorstelijke ordonnantie’ from Flanders ca. 1619 (RAG_GW8_RvV_772)
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GEMS Seminar: MA Students inspired by…

Wednesday, April 24th, 2019 (1.30-6 PM): Inspired by…, with presentations by master students

Blandijnberg 2, Grote Vergaderzaal Engels, 3rd floor

This month we will have a special session of our GEMS Seminar Inspired by… with Master students, who will present the first outcomes of their master thesis, reflecting also on those thinkers by whom they are inspired.


13:30: Zoë Van Cauwenberg inspired by… Kocku von Stuckrad

14:30: Fauve Vandenberghe inspired by… Michael McKeon

15:30 Break

16:00: Olivier Bodart … inspired by Marie-Laure Ryan

17:00: Jessica Van Wynsberge inspired by… Antonio Damasio

18:00: Reception


Zoë Van Cauwenberg inspired by… Kocku von Stuckrad

The historiographical construal of the relation between science and religion in terms of conflict has long posed a methodological crux in the study of early modern alchemy. To transcend this dichotomous model Kocku von Stuckrad proposes a model of interference that enables us to examine the junctures and mutual dependencies between cultural systems, such as religion and science. This model is especially fruitful when approaching early modern alchemy, a discipline that is often interpreted as either a semi-mystical religious pursuit of self-purification, or as an instance of antiquated science and technology devoted to the unlimited accumulation of wealth. My research moves beyond this debate and studies the reciprocal relation between theology and natural philosophy in early modern alchemy. To this end, I examine De Artificio Supernaturali (1594), a treatise written by Gerhard Dorn (c. 1530/5 – after 1584), an illustrious renaissance alchemist that has received little scholarly attention. Dorn’s alchemy and his alchemical practice serve as a focal point for investigating early modern notions of the precise relation of the physical and the metaphysical and how these two cohere in the alchemist’s expectations and self-understanding.

Fauve Vandenberghe inspired by… Michael McKeon

Michael McKeon, one of the most influential theorists of the early novel, recently wrote a book on the now largely forgotten genre of the secret history and how its features gradually became domesticated in the novel. This thesis takes McKeon’s idea of the “privatization” of the secret history as its starting point and looks at how Eliza Haywood engages with the genre in her early fiction. Haywood has firmly been established as one of the key figures who helped shape the novel, but critics have become sceptical about how such teleological conceptions of the rise of the novel limit our understanding of her work. Instead, they argue for a more nuanced understanding of the wide variety of genres within which she experimented. This thesis begins to put into practice such calls by looking at how she interacts with the secret history. Haywood’s indebtedness to the genre has proven to be fruitful ground for critics who have tried to ascertain her political affinities throughout her career, but her less overtly political texts have largely escaped such analytical scrutiny. More specifically, then, I look at how she plays with its narratological complexities in such texts that are not usually considered secret histories, namely Fantomina (1725) and The Masqueraders (1724).

Olivier Bodart … inspired by Marie-Laure Ryan

In recent narrative theory we notice a tendency toward the transmedial studies, especially the notion of transmedia storytelling has attained success. This is a process in which integral elements of a fiction get dispersed systematically across multiple delivery channels for the purpose of creating a unified and coordinated entertainment experience, a transmedia storyworld.

Inspired by the pioneering work of Marie-Laure Ryan in the field of transmediality and storyworld-theory, I would like to expand on this transmedia storytelling and transmedia storyworld in my thesis, since I believe that the purposely created unity, in which a “world” component is central, is too restrictive. I would like to hypothesize that representations of a certain narrative unit (/entity/existent), dispersed across different media, unintentionally create a fluid entity, that I will call transmedial narrative cloud. To test this hypothesis I will study the modern, transmedial representations of the Picaro-figure. During my presentation, I will thus critically review Ryan’s work and discuss her importance to my research, while illustrating this with picaro-representations of late 20th century.

Jessica Van Wynsberge inspired by… Antonio Damasio

My thesis is about the role the cognitive sciences could play in the field of literary theory. Ever since the so-called ‘cognitive turn’ in literary studies, scholars have increasingly turned to the interdisciplinary field of cognitive sciences to analyse the expression and representation of emotions in literary texts throughout history. In my presentation I will reflect upon some of the different definitions of emotion that are currently in circulation within this field, some deriving from ‘affective science’ (the empirical study of emotions), others from a set of theories used by cultural scientists that is broadly referred to as ‘affect theory’. The thinker I will focus on more specifically is Antonio Damasio, a professor in neuroscience, who writes about the narrative nature of consciousness.

In both Descartes’ error (1995) and The Feeling of what happens (1999) Damasio describes emotions as physical states arising from the body’s response to external stimuli. In his work he presents a theory about causal sequences, series of events that cause physical reactions we can feel and reflect upon. This process is, in his view, narrative by nature and plays an important role in the construction of our sense of self. Relying on Damasio’s work, I want to examine how the cognitive sciences could be used in the study and analysis of historical texts, meanwhile also posing the question how the study of literature might contribute to our understanding of the history of the human mind.

Workshop Performance Historiography: Examining Past Performances from a Present-day Perspective (12-13 September 2019)

The application deadline has passed and a selection of participants has been made. For any inquiries, please contact

With Henry Turner (Rutgers University) and Morag Josephine Grant (University of Edinburgh) (keynote speakers), Jane Hwang Degenhardt (University of Massachusetts Amherst), and Cornelis van der Haven (Ghent University).

DS specialist course for early career researchers on the theme of performance historiography,  organised by the interdisciplinary research groups THALIA (Ghent University and Free University of Brussels) and GEMS (Ghent University). The workshop aims to approach this theme from an interdisciplinary perspective, and to facilitate dialogue between young researchers and experts.

The workshop departs from the following: the existing body of literature on historical performance (1600-1900) is rather anecdotal and tends to focus on written sources rather than examining past performances as experiences, or as events that had a bodily or an emotional impact. In the workshop, we intend to explore how contemporary theory can help us accessing past performances, and understand their function in their historical time and space. Examples of such performances are theatrical performances, music performances, rituals, religious processions, or political demonstrations, but also broader notions performance are welcome to be discussed.

During the two days, Henry Turner and Morag Josephine Grant will each give a lecture in which they discuss performance historiography from their area of expertise. The rest of the time is designated for research presentations by the participants and discussion.

Preliminary programme
Thursday, 12 September
09:00 – 09:30 welcome and coffee
09:30 – 11:30 session 1: masterclass Henry Turner
11:30 – 13:00 session 2: discussion
13:00 – 14:00 lunch
14:00 – 16:00 session 3: presentations by participants
16:00 – 16:30 coffee
16:30 – 18:30 session 4: presentations by participants

Friday, 13 September
09:00 – 09:30 coffee
09:30 – 11:30 session 5: masterclass Morag Josephine Grant
11:30 – 13:00 session 6: discussion
13:00 – 14:00 lunch
14:00 – 16:00 session 7: presentations by participants
16:00 – 16:30 coffee
16:30 – 18:30 session 8: presentations by participants †

GEMS in portraits: Andrew Bricker

This week, I sat down with Andrew Bricker to talk about his research, his work at UGent and his forthcoming book about satire and defamation law; we ended up talking a lot about our shared astonishment at Belgian traffic behaviour and the things we have come to love about Ghent. As an assistant professor in English Literature, Andrew is an expert on satire from the early modern period, but his interests extend to material culture and cognitive approaches to reading. After having studied and worked in Toronto, Prague, Stanford, Montreal and Vancouver, Andrew finally settled in Ghent last year. Now he is sharing his excitement about “old books” with Flemish students (“who are really great, but don’t talk very much – yet when they do talk they have very interesting things to say!”), working on his book Libel and Lampoon: Satire in the Courts, 1670-1792, and learning Dutch (which goes “heel goed!”) while exploring Belgium on his bike on the weekends.  Continue reading

GEMS Research Day, Thursday 31 May

Man bij studeervertrek, Jan Luyken, 1689 (Rijksmuseum Amsterdam)

On 31 May, GEMS will organize its first Research Day in cooperation with RELICS. During that day, we will discuss together some topical questions concerning the state of scholarly research today, especially in regard to issues that concern younger scholars, like the current state of PhD and postdoc research, publishing strategies and more in general about what actually motivates us in doing research and which role research plays in our lives.

Anyone who is interested in these issues is invited to take part in the morning and/or afternoon programme of this research day, with a workshop about PhD research in the morning and a panel discussion and interview with Kate Belsey in the afternoon, about publication strategies and the state of scholarship in 2018.


PLEASE REGISTER for this research day by conforming your attendance to: Please indicate in your message if you would like to take part in the morning programme, the afternoon programme, or both.


PROGRAMME – Location: Plateau-building, Plateaustraat 22, Ghent

Simon Stevin Room (Plateau building)

10:30-13:00: Workshop about PhD research in 2018: three colleagues who are now in the final stage of their PhD projects will tell about how their research developed over time, what decisions they made in their research, also in regard to their academic network, attendance of conferences and publication of papers and how they see their scholarly future after taking their PhD. Presentations by: Delphine Calle, Michiel Van Dam (both UGent) and Frederik Knegtel (University of Leiden)

13:00-14:00: Lunch

Jozef Plateau Room (Plateau building)

14:00-15:30: Publish or publish? Panel discussion with: Neil Badmington (Cardiff University, author and journal editor Barthes Studies), Tiffany Bousard (journal editor Early Modern Low Countries), Erika Gaffney (publisher Amsterdam University Press) and Teodoro Katinis (UGent, author).

The panel will discuss, from different perspectives (authors, journal editors, academic publishers), different issues that determine the current publication culture in humanities scholarship. How do publishers go about in their selection of books and edited collections? Which advice can they give to young scholars new to the scene? How do publishers and journal editors deal with peer-review processes, with electronic publications, with Open Access requirements, with the bibliometric ‘imperative’,…? What advice can experienced scholars, who have published internationally, give to younger scholars in the field, with respect to article submissions and/or book proposals?

15.30-16.00: Coffee break

Jozef Plateau Room (Plateau building)

16.00-17.30: What Do We Mean by Research? (And why do we do it?)

Research forms a substantial component of an academic’s duties and takes up the majority of a PhD student’s time. It is easy to take this for granted. But what do we mean by research and why do we allot it a major role in our lives?

In an informal discussion chaired by Prof. Catherine Belsey, questions might include the following. What motivates research? Curiosity, fame, promotion, changing the world? Does research in the humanities make a difference? If no further research took place in our field, would it matter? If so, why?

Does research influence teaching? Does teaching influence research? Or are the two skills independent of one another? Since they compete for attention, are they in conflict?

Where does a research project start? From a puzzle, a hypothesis, desire for a fuller picture, discontent with existing views? What defines good research?

17.30-….: Wine and Beer Reception

GEMS Seminar: MA students inspired by…

Wednesday, April 18th, 2018 (1.30-6 PM): Inspired by, with presentations by master students

Faculty of Library Arts & Philosophy, Blandijn building, Grote Vergaderzaal Engels

In April we will have a special session of our GEMS Seminar Inspired by… with Master students, who will present the first outcomes of their master thesis, reflecting also on those thinkers by whom they are inspired.


13:30: Kobe Gordts inspired by… Sarah Schechner

14:30: Lies Verbaere inspired by… Piero Floriani

15:30 Break

16:00: Jorn Hubo inspired by… Northrop Frye

17:00: Tom Laureys inspired by… Alan Sinfield

18:00: Reception


Kobe Gordts – Inspired by Sarah Schechner

Historical research on cometary science has received modest attention in the past twenty years, due to the excellent case studies it provides for research in the history of science and religion. One of the people who launched comets as objects of historical research is Sarah Schechner. She showed us how early modern scientists like Isaac Newton and Edmond Haley did not deny the divine character of these celestial objects, but in fact incorporated them in their own cosmological theories. Inspired by her work I will present my findings concerning the comet of 1652 as it has been described and interpreted by Arise Evans, William Lilly and Richard Fitzsmith. I put forward the thesis that comets can be perceived as a ‘liminal object’, flexible enough to mean different things within the same text but robust enough so it remains essentially the same object representing those different identities.


Lies Verbaere inspired by… Piero Floriani

This thesis discusses Torquato Tasso’s use of historiography in his epic poem the Gerusalemme liberata (1581), which describes the Christian army’s conquest of Jerusalem during the First Crusade (1095-1099). The army, under the guidance of Godfrey of Bouillon (1060-1100), is aided by Heaven and opposed by Saracens and demons.

Through a thorough reading of William of Tyre’s Historia Ierosolimitana (1184), Tasso’s principal source of the First Crusade, and the Liberata itself, my dissertation tries to ascertain whether something new can be said about Tasso’s modus operandi or whether new interpretations of his poem are possible. Instead of considering ‘random’ episodes that demonstrate William’s chronicle’s influence, the thesis tackles three themes: Christian and Muslim leadership, Pagan magic and Christian meraviglioso (marvellous), and conflict management.

My work attempts to find some motives of Tasso’s modus operandi through a coherent thematic narrative and through the examination of Tasso’s concrete choices. The finding of these motives is not only achieved by considering where Tasso follows William’s chronicle, but also by discerning his originality. In considering this originality, my thesis was inspired by Piero Floriani’s article, “Per una Gerusalemme commentata. Esercizio su cinque (sei…) ottave del poema tassiano” (2003). Both Tasso’s rewriting history and his originality constitute, after all, his poetical working method.

Jorn Hubo – Inspired by Northrop Frye

“Þe best boke of romaunce”, Sir Gawain and The Green Knight’s nuanced image of chivalry has made it a favourite for critical study. Yet, the poem is not only nuanced, it is also highly ambiguous. If read as a ‘classical romance’ in the tradition of Chrétien de Troyes and his disciples, the text presents us with many problematic elements; we encounter many ambiguities in form and content which in their turn lead to ambiguities in interpretation. Since simply stating SGGK is a romance appears to create a host of problems, it is the object of this study to problematize just exactly what sort of text the poem is. This generic exercise is especially relevant to SGGK since its author himself seems highly aware of the qualities and expectations certain kinds of texts, such as romances, bring with them and he appears to use these expectations as strategies to construct an intelligent text that engages with its audience.

This approach places my research squarely in the field of genre studies, a field which was not created but severely influenced by Canadian critic Northrop Frye. With Anatomy of Criticism (1957), he was the first to construct a nuanced system for engaging with the concept of literary genre. While by today’s standard, Frye would be – and has been – criticised for being too prescriptive, his thoughts on genre still influence and inspire many researchers, amongst which myself. Therefore, I will try to shed light on what exactly it is that makes Frye’s approach to genre so seminal.

Tom Laureys – Inspired by Alan Sinfield

In the first part of my presentation, I will shed some light on the scholarly importance of Alan Sinfield, a British literary critic who is listed as one of the standard-bearers of Cultural Materialism, a critical practice which is closely related to New Historicism. In the second part of my presentation I will focus on the research I am doing in my MA thesis, for which Sinfield’s book Faultlines (1992) serves as a huge source of inspiration. In the Anglo-Saxon world, New Historicism and Cultural Materialism have lost most of their newness and have become what Raymond Williams would call ‘residual’. In Dutch Renaissance studies however, these reading practices still do not seem to find entrance or even acceptance. The critical practice which still prevails in Dutch literary criticism is what Greenblatt would define as ‘Old Historicism’. In 2011, professor Pieters wrote an inspiring book in which he investigates which methodological assumptions have to change in order to be able to talk of a ‘Dutch New Historicism’. My research is in line with that of Pieters, since it is my aim to take the first tentative steps towards a concrete elaboration of a ‘Dutch Cultural Materialism’. To that purpose, I take the genre of the early modern Dutch revenge tragedy as my research object.