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


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.

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’

GEMS Seminar: Atelier with Elwin Hofman

Psychological knowledge and where to find it

Date: Thursday, 20 February 2020, 12-13h
Place: Simon Stevin Room (Plateaustraat 22, Gent)

The history of psychology is often a rather dull field. Many of its practitioners are psychologists seeking to retrace the great innovations in their discipline. Except to pay lip service to some great men – Aristotle, Locke, Kant – they rarely venture beyond the last third of the nineteenth century, when ‘scientific’ psychology emerged as a discipline. Yet in the last two decades, two developments have shaken up the long-held consensus that psychology has ‘a long past, but a short history’. First, it has been shown that there was an academic discipline of psychology in the early modern period, and even under that very name. Second, historians of twentieth-century psychology have started to move beyond the walls of the academy in order to understand how psychological knowledge operated in society. They have come to study the uses of psychology in everyday life and, conversely, how everyday problems and practices have shaped psychological knowledge. This latter approach is still rare in the study of early modern psychology. In this atelier, I will therefore explore the different sources of psychological knowledge in the early modern period, particularly for what concerns everyday and ‘practical’ psychological knowledge, outside the confines of learned culture. While I will focus on the potential of legal sources, I invite participants to think along about how we might re-write the history of early modern psychology.

Elwin Hofman is a postdoctoral fellow of the Research Foundation – Flanders at the Cultural History research group, KU Leuven. He studies the cultural and social history of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe. He has previously published on the history of the self, emotions in eighteenth-century criminal justice, and the history of homosexuality. His current research project concerns the rise of psychological interrogation techniques in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Europe.

GEMS Inspired by…

Michiel van Dam inspired by Philip Sheldrake

Spaces of Solidarity: History, the Urban and the Spiritual Practice of Everyday Life

Date: Wednesday, 4 March 2020, 14-16h
Place: Simon Stevin Room (Plateaustraat 22, Gent)

The work of Philip Sheldrake has become synonymous with innovative and interdisciplinary research in the field of (Christian) spirituality, with interventions coming in the domains of historiography, theology, philosophy, and social theory. Resolutely arguing for the crucial presence of spiritual practices in the sphere of everyday life, Sheldrake has opened up important new avenues of investigation for historians and social scientists looking to nuance the often rigid distinction made between religious contemplation and public life, between Christian interiority and social action. In this session, I will give a short analytic summary of Sheldrake’s recent contributions such as Explorations in Spirituality (2010) and The Spiritual City (2014), looking at the lessons we can derive from his interdisciplinary approach, his spiritual theology of social engagement, and his account of the modern-day, diverse city. I will end by reflecting on Sheldrake’s importance for my own current research project, an intellectual history of sociology as a ‘science of solidarity’, which investigates the secularizing effects of traditional notions of social assistance, as well as the potential of modern sources of faith-based solidarity for the superdiverse urban space of the 21st century.

Michiel Van Dam is postdoctoral researcher at the University of Antwerp. In 2019 he defended his PhD-thesis at Ghent University: La révolution des temps. Revolutionary languages and politics of time in the Austrian Netherlands and the Dutch Republic (1780-1790)

GEMS Inspired by…

Kornee van der Haven & Renée Vulto inspired by… Monique Scheer

Early modern song and drill as ‘emotional practices’

Date: Wednesday, 8 January 2020, 14-16h
Place: Simon Stevin Room (Plateaustraat 22, Gent)

The cultural anthropologist Monique Scheer combines historical and ethnographic methods in her study of emotions as cultural practices. This approach, based in practice theory, offers historians a way to study historical phenomena in a more complete way, acknowledging the essential role of the body in emotional experiences. In this ‘GEMS Inspired by’-session, Kornee van der Haven and Renée Vulto will situate the work of Scheer in the context of research on the history of emotions, and explicate her concept of emotional practices. After this introduction, both speakers will provide examples of how the approach proposed by Scheer has influenced their research. Kornee van der Haven will discuss a case of military performance on stage as well early modern drill; while Renée Vulto will discuss singing as an emotional practice in the context of political societies. 

People who would like to take part and to receive the preparatory literature for this seminar can send an email to

Kornee van der Haven is associate professor of Dutch literature at Ghent University. He works on early modern Dutch and German theatre and poetry, with a focus on the role of literature in shaping cultural and social identities.

Renée Vulto is doctoral researcher at the literary studies department at Ghent University. Her project studies the role of songs and practices of singing in the construction of communities in the context of late eighteenth-century Dutch political situation. 

Van lijkzang tot strijdlied

Studienamiddag over gebruiksfuncties van Nederlandstalige poëzie door de eeuwen heen (event in Dutch)

Tijdens deze studiemiddag staat publieks- en gebruikspoëzie centraal. Door de eeuwen heen heeft poëzie een sociale functie in de samenleving en in de publieke ruimte. In de lezingen presenteren specialisten in de historische en moderne Nederlandstalige literatuur hun onderzoek. Vervolgens gaan zij met elkaar en met het publiek in gesprek over de sociale gebruiksfunctie van poëzie vanaf de renaissance. Er wordt aandacht besteed aan lyriek en liedcultuur, het gelegenheidskarakter van poëzie (zoals hommage- en opdrachtgedichten) en aan rouwpoëzie. Dit gebeurt aan de hand van gevalstudies uit verschillende perioden van de Nederlandse literatuurgeschiedenis waarbij overeenkomsten en verschillen tussen literaire fenomenen van vroeger en vandaag aan bod komen.

Elke lezing vertrekt vanuit een specifieke casus:

  • Strijdliederen (Renée Vulto en Laurens Ham)
  • Lofdichten/hommages (Nina Geerdink en Carl de Strycker)
  • Funeraire gedichten (Kornee van der Haven en Bram Lambrecht)

Vrijdag 28 februari van 13u30 tot 17u00

Zaal De Blauwe Vogel, De Krook, M. Makebaplein 1, 9000 Gent

Inschrijven via deze link:

De studienamiddag is een samenwerking tussen de afdeling Nederlandse Literatuur, onderzoeksgroepen GEMS en POWEZIE (Universiteit Gent) en De Krook.

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.