Upcoming workshop by Geertje Bol: Mary Astell on Love, Friendship and Enmity

On Wednesday 29 March 2023, at Camelot (Blandijnberg 2, 1-2 pm), Geertje Bol (UGent, FWO postdoc) will be giving a workshop on her research in early modern history: “I Love you whom the World calls Enemies”: Mary Astell on Love, Friendship and Enmity.

Abstract: Political friendship is currently undergoing a revival both in contemporary political philosophy as well as in the history of political thought. This in turn has provoked critiques of political friendship. However, these critical voices come primarily from within the male-dominated canon, such as Machiavelli and Hobbes. And yet, we might ask, who were in a better position to critique what has been called the “exclusively male” and elitist language of political friendship than women? For that reason, I turn to the critique of political friendship we find in Mary Astell (1666–1731), the seventeenth-century philosopher and pamphleteer known as “the first English feminist.” Astell, like Aristotle, grounded friendship in virtue, reciprocity and partiality. The point of friendship was to point out one another’s flaws and help one’s friend to improve in virtue and thus attain salvation. Astell argued that such friendship could never take place in the imperfect realm of politics. However, unlike Aristotle and current proponents of “civic friendship,” Astell rejected the notion of a watered-down version of friendship in politics, one devoid of emotion and virtue, but still grounded in reciprocity and good will. She argued that such friends could not fulfil the end of friendship, namely, to improve one’s friend’s virtue. I argue that we should instead see Astell as a proponent of political enmity: after true and virtuous friends, enemies were best at fulfilling the end of friendship. Astell’s critique of political friendship and her appreciation of enmity is especially relevant for contemporary proponents of civic friendship and writers who argue that we should see partisanship as a form of friendship.

Medieval and Early Modern Studies Spring School 2023: Historical Performance Studies

Groningen (Van Swinderen Huys), 27-31 March 2023

This Spring School is organised by Ghent University (GEMS, Thalia, Doctoral School AHL), University of Groningen, University of Göttingen, the Huizinga Institute and the Dutch Research School for Medieval Studies to stimulate contacts and exchange between PhD candidates and ReMa students in the field of literary studies, cultural history, art history, media studies, theatre studies, musicology, history of dance, history of religion, history of science, and early modern and medieval history.


Scholars of the medieval and early modern period encounter the concept of performance in various disciplines. The notion of performativity is no longer limited to the study of traditional theatrical arts but also employed to deepen our understanding of social, political, and religious events and rituals. This Spring School will therefore pay attention to a wide range of performances in history, from political gatherings, religious rituals, and courtroom proceedings to theatre, concerts, and dance. It combines a focus on the medieval and early modern period with an interdisciplinary perspective, attending to the theoretical background of performance studies, its related concepts, and its more practical sides. Moreover, the Spring School will enable speakers and participants to reflect on new methodological approaches, including digital humanities, the intertwinement of arts and science, and research through performance.


The course takes four recent lines of research in the field of historical performance studies and their related concepts as a starting point: rituals & performativity, embodiment & self-fashioning, computational approaches, and cultural techniques. Specialists from various scholarly backgrounds (cultural history, history of knowledge, literary studies, and theatre history) will reflect on how they define and apply the above-mentioned concepts in their own research.

An accompanying reading list will offer the participants a stepping stone to engage in further reflection and discussion. Through short pitches, the attending PhD and Research Master students will reflect on the possibilities and difficulties of working with the concerning concepts in their own research projects. More informal talks about historical performance studies will be possible during a thematic guided walk through Groningen and a workshop on historical acting techniques.


Session I: Walk through Groningen – Guide: Renée Vulto (Utrecht University)

Session II: Rituals and Performativity – Lecturers: Marian Füssel (University of Göttingen) & Rina Knoeff (University of Groningen)

Session III: Embodiment, Performativity & Self-fashioning – Lecturers: Sidia Fiorato (University of Verona) & Catrien Santing (University of Groningen)

Session IV: Digital Humanities and Historical Performance Studies – Lecturer: Erika Kuijpers (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam)

Session V: Workshop Digital Humanities – Lecturers: Dinah Wouters (Huygens Institute) & Andrea Peverelli (Huygens Institute)

Session VI: Workshop Historical Acting Techniques – Teacher: Laila Neuman (Leiden University)

Session VII: Imagineering – Lecturers: Frans-Willem Korsten (Leiden University) & Kornee van der Haven (Ghent University)


PhD students and ReMa students are invited to register for this course through the following link: Registration form [https://forms.gle/3ZUvWNsyDcBgZdHeA] Please note that there is a limited number of places available for this course. After your registration you will soon receive more information about whether your registration can be confirmed or not. Some of the participating graduate/doctoral schools and research groups will cover tuition and lodging for their participating members (please wait for more information after your registration).

Organising institutions and partners

This Spring School is an initiative of GEMS (Group for Early Modern Studies, Ghent University), Thalia (Ghent University-Vrije Universiteit Brussel), Doctoral Schools AHL (Ghent University), University of Göttingen, ICOG (Research Institute for the Study of Culture, University of Groningen), the Huizinga Institute (Netherlands Graduate School for Cultural History, Utrecht University) and the Dutch Research School for Medieval Studies, in close cooperation with, IEMH (Institute for Early Modern History (Ghent University-Vrije Universiteit Brussel), Onderzoeksgroep Nieuwe Tijd (Katholieke Universiteit Leuven), Ruusbroecgenootschap (University of Antwerp), and Research Centre for Visual Poetics (University of Antwerp).

GEMS Plans for the 2022-2023 Academic Year

For the 2022-2023 academic year, GEMS is looking forward to planning both in-person and online events, including lectures, workshops, ateliers, “inspired by…” sessions, and book launches. 

Interested in taking part? If you are a Ph.D. student, postdoc, or visiting junior scholar at UGent or another institution, and are interested in participating, either as an attendee or a presenter, please be in contact with Chris Chan (Christopher.Chan@UGent.be).

If you are an advanced-career researcher and would be interested in sharing your research at UGent, through a lecture, a work-in-progress workshop, or a seminar, please be in contact with Andrew Bricker (Andrew.Bricker@UGent.be). 

We look forward to welcoming everyone back to GEMS in 2022-2023! 


The GEMS Steering Committee

GEMS in portraits: Sarah Adams

Last Tuesday, I sat down (at a safe distance) with Sarah Adams to talk about the research she has been conducting during the last couple of years as a PhD candidate in Dutch literature. Sarah’s research deals with abolitionist/ameliorist theatre plays written and staged between 1770 and 1810 in the Netherlands, which critically address colonial slavery in the Asian and Atlantic orbits. The aim of the project is to reveal how market-led and racist ideologies are running across her corpus of abolitionist plays. By structuring her research around three classic blackface characters which are traditionally being discerned in theatre historiography (the suffering object, the contented fool and the vengeful rebel), Sarah shows that abolitionist theatre ultimately tried to safeguard a white male subjectivity. As a matter of fact, it was a pretty special day for Sarah: just a moment before our meeting, she received the first printed copy of her doctoral thesis Repertories of Slavery, which she is about to defend publicly come December 10th.

Portrait of Toussaint Louverture, chromolithograph published by George de Baptiste (ca. 1870). Washington D.C.: Library of Congress [LC-DIG-pga-05834].

How did your interests in your research arise?

“In 2013, I studied at Newcastle University as a part of an Erasmus programme. There I followed a course called ‘Writing the New World’, which was taught by Professor Matthew Grenby. In one of the lectures, we discussed The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano (1789), an autobiographic account of a formerly enslaved Nigerian man who was manumitted and brought to Europe, where he committed himself to the abolitionist cause in the British parliament. I was absolutely fascinated by his story. In my BA thesis, I went on to investigate the abolitionist discourse of eighteenth-century Dutch texts. Remarkably, I didn’t find any autobiographical accounts like that of Equiano, but mostly theatre plays, like Kraspoekol, of de slaaverny and Monzongo, of de koningklyke slaaf. Contrary to England, postcolonial studies in the Netherlands (and Belgium) still make up a kind of wasteland yet to cultivate.”

Do you consider your work interdisciplinary?

“Yes, I do. My research is discourse-oriented and centres on white self-representation, but also on power relations and racialized oppression. I guess discourse analyses are by definition interdisciplinary. To give an example: in my chapter on the character of the contented fool, I delve into early modern uses of blackface in the theatre. In it, I show how the history of blackface in the early modern theatre is intertwined with shifting ideas concerning race, science and capitalism. In this sense, I set up a dialogue between literary and non-literary texts, like political and scientific treatises.”

Have you ever experienced a Eureka moment in your research?

Absolutelyin the Fall of 2019, I had an experience of what you might call ‘archival satisfaction’. In a book by Eberhard Rebling about ballets in the Amsterdam schouwburg, published in 1950, I came across a drawing by François Joseph Pfeiffer, who was the schouwburg’s costume designer around 1800. The drawing showed the costume for two enslaved sub-Saharan African characters, with a blackened complexion and stereotypical attributes like a tambourine and a spear. Rebling’s book indicated that the drawing was kept in the Amsterdam Six Collection. Yet despite searching this entire collection, I couldn’t find Pfeiffer’s design and the staff assumed the drawing had been sold to a private person. More than a year had gone by, when I visited the TIN (Theater Instituut Nederland, now Allard Pierson). Although the entire TIN-collection had been digitized, and the drawing wasn’t there, a staff member managed to find the drawing at the bottom of a cardboard box which had been mislaid. This drawing is very important to me, since it is the closest we can get to the actual appearance of Africanized and enslaved characters on the early modern Dutch stage.”

What is the most inspiring study you have ever read?

“That must be Silencing the Past (1995) by the Haitian historian Michel-Rolph Trouillot, who has dedicated his whole career to investigating how historiography and the acquisition of knowledge are related to power. According to Trouillot, historiography is a vast collection of ‘mentions and silences’. These silences are neither natural nor neutral; they are always actively created by dominant voices in society. Trouillot demonstrates this by means of the historiography of the 1791 Haitian Revolution in the French colony of Saint-Domingue. In a couple of days, the rebel leader Toussaint Louverture managed to mobilize tens of thousands of free and enslaved people of colour against the French coloniser, which would eventually result in the foundation of the first black, independent republic in the Caribbean in 1804. Trouillot shows that from the beginning on, the European metropoles framed the Haitian Revolution as an isolated case, which was completely depoliticized, criminalized and banalized. This was, of course, a strategy to make slave-led resistance to colonial subjection consonant with the white dominant order—Africans and their descendants were held in an unnegotiable subservient position and for them to envision freedom was ‘unthinkable,’ to use Trouillot’s term. Only recently, the Revolution of 1791 has been recognized as a crucial moment in modern history, which is reflected in the fact that more and more researchers include the Haitian Revolution into their account of the so-called ‘Age of Revolution’. Silencing the Past is an accessible study and makes researchers aware of the fact that they as well are inevitably mentioning some voices, while silencing others.” 

And the most recent one?

De Slavernij in Oost en West. Het Amsterdam onderzoek, a volume edited by Pepijn Brandon, Guno Jones, Nancy Jouwe and Matthias van Rossum). It appeared only a couple of days ago and came about at the request of the Amsterdam city council, which will take the book as a point of reference in its decision on whether or not to offer formal apologies for the city’s colonial past. The conclusion of the editors is that Amsterdam was involved in the institution of slavery on a global scale and for a long period of time, and that this past continues to affect modern-day Amsterdam. The speech delivered by mayor Femke Halsema at the book presentation on September 29, 2020, was actually hopeful, so I expect there will be apologies in the near future. This book is of utmost importance in the campaign to raise public awareness of the country’s colonial past.”

— Tom Laureys

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 Seminar: Atelier with Elwin Hofman

Psychological knowledge and where to find it

Date: Thursday, 20 February 2020, 12h00 – 13h00

Place: Simon Stevin Room (Plateaustraat 22)


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 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.