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This sections showcases PhD projects in the field.

PhD Projects in Medieval Studies

Unveiling Sexual Identities in Renaissance Italy

(Supervised by: Prof. Dr Peter Hoppenbrouwers (Leiden) and Dr Susanna de Beer (Leiden))

What is the central aim of your research project?

My project is a history of mentalities which focuses on perceptions of sexuality in Italy between c. 1450 and 1550. Research questions include to what extent it is possible to speak of ‘sexual identity’ in this period, and what kind of restrictions regarding sexual desire and sex acts were shared. An important part of my research consists of a reconstruction of the (diverse and sometimes contradictory) codes of conduct for people of different ages, genders, and social classes, as well an analysis of the motives and rationalizations behind these codes.

What do you like most about doing research?

I really enjoy having the opportunity to study a great variety of sources, ranging from anatomical treatises to sermons, and from chivalric romance to personal correspondence. It is fascinating to see how these sources interact with each other, and discover their similarities and differences. Another thing I really love about doing research is sharing and discussing the results with a broader audience, either through interviews, public lectures, or blog posts.

What has been the biggest eye-opener in your research so far?

At the start of my research, guided by the traditional canon, I was still unaware of the number (and great variety) of sources written by female authors. These texts have proven to be of particular value. Another important realization while doing this project was the recognition that many  beliefs that seem diametrically opposed could easily coexist within a society, a textual community, or even within the minds of individuals. A homosexual preference could, for instance, be described as an acquired lifestyle, while simultaneously being presented as an innate inclination.

To my webpage

Parthonopeus van Bloys: An edition of all surviving manuscript fragments

(Supervised by: Prof. Dr J.M. Koppenol (VU Amsterdam) and Prof. Dr J.A.A.M. Biemans (UvA))

What is the central aim of your research project?

I am preparing an edition of all surviving manuscript fragments of the thirteenth-century Middle Dutch romance Parthonopeus van Bloys. There are 41 fragments in total, some large and some small. Taken together they encompass almost 9000 verses. In addition, I have studied the historical and literary context of this text, thus laying the basis for the introduction to the edition. The Parthonopeus van Bloys is a well-written adaptation of the twelfth-century Old French Partonopeus de Blois. Research into the Middle Dutch Parthonopeus up to now has been hampered by the lack of a modern edition. Hopefully this will change once my edition is published.

What do you like most about doing research?

Definitely the visits to the libraries and archives where the different manuscript fragments are kept: in Berlin, Cologne, Jena, Prague, Trier, Maastricht, Groningen and Brussels. I still have one visit left, to (for me) the closest fragment, which is held at Leiden University. I photographed the fragments – to accommodate my editing work at home – and also examined them from a codicological perspective. Sometimes, for example in Prague and in Jena, I needed to study a particularly damaged fragment with the help of a UV-lamp in a darkened room in order to try and decipher the text (which - luckily for me - was indeed possible in most instances).

What has been the biggest eye-opener in your research so far?

It is just amazing how incredibly rich the literary culture of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries was. The author of the Old French Partonopeus de Blois combined various elements from classical sources and Breton lais in his romance and he also included references to the work of his contemporary Chrétien de Troyes, in particular Yvain. The Middle Dutch adaptor clearly understood this and he shows great creativity in the way he uses some of these elements in the (original Middle Dutch) ending to his adaptation. The more you dive into these texts, the better you start to see that these poets were deeply familiar with an enormous amount of literary sources. Their creative use of these sources underlines the dynamic character of this particular period in time, when the romance as a genre was just starting to emerge.

For a peek behind the scenes of my research project and an update of the latest developments, please visit my blog.

Woodcuts as reading aids: Illustrations and knowledge transfer in printed books in Dutch on the natural world, c. 1480 - c. 1550

(Supervised by: Prof. dr Arnoud Visser (UU), Prof. dr Bart Besamusca (UU), Dr Daantje Meuwissen (VU))

What is the central aim of your research project?

I try to understand how illustrations (woodcuts) in early printed vernacular books contributed to the transmission of knowledge among a wide and varied audience. My source material consists of books in Dutch on medical and astrological topics that present their subject matter emphatically as useful knowledge. Starting from the premise that book design affects how readers experience and use a book, I examine book producers’ choices and strategies with respect to image use as well as real readers’ engagement with these illustrated books. More precisely, I aim to show that the images are not just decorative, but that they fulfill all kinds of rhetorical functions.

What do you like most about doing research?

Well, what not? As a PhD candidate I have unparalleled freedom to shape my own project and to organise my time. That is quite a responsibility, but I also find it a highly productive and pleasant way of working. I also find the intellectual and informal exchanges with colleagues from a wide range of disciplines very inspiring. Furthermore, my research subject has led me to visit all kinds of wonderful libraries in places which I probably would not have travelled to otherwise. Unfortunately such research trips have become a lot harder since COVID-19, so I am very lucky that I have been able to collect my source material in the past few years.

What has been the biggest eye-opener in your research so far?

There are two eye-openers, in fact. In the first place I have been surprised by the large number of woodcuts from the Low Countries that derive from German examples. While scholars are often focused on establishing relationships between Dutch and French literature, the book printers around 1500 must have had a keen eye on what was happening in the German book market.

The second eye-opener is that apparently idiosyncratic traces of readers regularly turn out to reveal broader practices of reading. These traces are not so idiosyncratic after all. For example, I found a surprising number of copies in which readers/annotators have also coloured images themselves, and copies in which pins have been attached to certain pages. Our understanding of such practices is still rudimentary, but they provide us with new insights into readers’ interests in and perceptions of the printed book.

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