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 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.

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’

Sarton Centre Seminar Series

Sarton Centre Seminar Series

Leen Spruit (Radboud Universiteit)

Is atomism atheism?
A trial (Naples 1688-1697) and a controversy (Giovanni Battista De Benedictis vs. Francesco d’Andrea)

Date: Thursday 30 January 2020, 14:00 to 16:00
Location: Simon Stevin Room, Plateau-Rozier, Jozef Plateaustraat 22

From 1688 to 1697, Naples, capital of the Spanish kingdom in South Italy, provided the stage for a large-scale inquisitorial trial against a great number of persons accused of embracing atomism and therefore of subscribing to atheism. In the early 1670s, Naples’ ecclesiastical authorities had begun to warn against the spread of the mechanical philosophy and atomism. Notably the members of the Accademia degli Investiganti (1663-1670) had been much taken by these new ideas. After the official closure of the Academy, this circle enlarged, began to meet in less secluded places and discussed its ideas more openly, thereby attracting a new generation of intellectuals to the “new philosophy”. The Church responded to this situation with hitherto unseen determination. Prominent Church leaders delivered fiery sermons condemning a doctrine that, according to them, denied the existence of God, the immortality of the soul and the possibility of miracles.

In 1688, a certain Francesco Paolo Manuzzi presented himself “spontaneously” to the representative of the Holy Office in Naples to denounce a group of persons in Naples who endorsed the “philosophy of the atoms” and who had lost their faith. Manuzzi’s deposition contains a series of extraordinary claims purportedly made by the ‘atomist’ Neapolitans, concerning the existence of pre-Adamitic humans; errors and abuses of Christ and the pope; and the inexistence of God, hell, purgatory, paradise and the sacraments. None of these claims can be found in any other early-modern atomistic or corpuscular philosophy.
When the Roman Holy Office sought to involve the Neapolitan archbishop and the political authorities in both Naples and Madrid in its battle against atheism and atomism, the representatives of the nobility and the rising middle class reacted forcefully, organizing themselves in a “Permanent Deputation” that aimed to abolish the Inquisition in Naples and delegating two members to Rome to negotiate this matter with the cardinals and the pope.

The trial produced important texts: the fierce attack on modern philosophy by Jesuit Giovanni Battista de Benedictis (1694); the two replies to it by Francesco d’Andrea (ca. 1695-1697, both unpublished); and the extensive set of replies by Costantino Grimaldi (published in 1699-1703). A further important onslaught on modern philosophy is contained in the 1696 pamphlet Turris fortitudinis.

The mass of mostly unexamined documents of this trial and the books, manuscripts and pamphlets surrounding it offer a unique experimental garden for research into the broader cultural and political context of the spread of the corpuscular philosophy. Indeed, this trial seems an ideal case to confront the local with the international dimensions of the new philosophical and scientific currents involving atomistic and corpuscular notions, which were as difficult to delineate then as they are today.

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.