Deze maand verscheen bij de Primavera Pers in Leiden het boek Bezem & Kruis: De Hollandse schoonmaakcultuur of de geschiedenis van een obsessie, mijn vertaling van Miotła i krzyż: Kultura sprzątania w dawnej Holandii, albo historia pewnej obsesji. Het boek is geschreven door de Poolse letterkundige en kunsthistoricus Piotr Oczko, die is verbonden aan de Uniwersytet Jagielloński in Krakau.
Het rijk geïllustreerde werk vormt een studie van de Hollandse schoonmaak- cultuur door de eeuwen heen. Aan de hand van talrijke voorbeelden laat Oczko zien hoe het schoonmaken vanaf de zeventiende eeuw een belangrijke rol ging spelen in de kunst en literatuur van de Noordelijke Nederlanden, met name Holland. In binnen- en buitenland begon men schoonmaken en properheid te associëren met de Nederlandse cultuur en identiteit. Deze ‘obsessie’ met schoonmaken duurde voort tot in de twintigste eeuw.
On 13 October, I presented a paper at the yearly Huizinga conference for PhD candidates. Due to the pandemic, the conference was held entirely online. My paper was entitled Familiar Foreigners. Poles through Dutch Eyes in the Seventeenth Century.
I discussed work in progress on the different ways in which the Dutch during the seventeenth century imagined the Polish people. Firstly, I analysed a variety of Dutch visualisations of ‘Poles’ and ‘Polishness’, ranging from engravings to gable stones and from paintings to ‘Polish’ stage costumes. While such representations were partly based on reality, a comparison with Dutch portraits of real Poles shows how these could break the mould. For whereas a Pole’s appearance was typically associated with the exoticism of the orient, and hardly differed from his Hungarian, Russian, or even Turkish counterparts, depictions of individuals could deviate from this pattern, as Poles navigated between ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western’ guises.
Secondly, I used several poems, travel accounts, and other sources to reconstruct the ways in which Dutch authors imagined Polish characters and customs. Typical Poles were identified as Sarmatians, a bellicose, brutal, and barbaric people, whose backward nature was shaped by the cold climate and severe living conditions of their homeland. However, these negative notions are challenged by several other sources, mainly Latin poems by Dutch authors in honour of their Polish friends. These compositions reveal that, despite the stereotypes, Dutch poets maintained and celebrated warm relations with Polish individuals in a variety of contexts, from scholarship to warfare to religion. Together, the visual and textual source material demonstrates that, through seventeenth-century Dutch eyes, Poles were familiar foreigners.
I am happy to announce a new peer-reviewed paper, entitled ‘De Poolse Hercules. Romeyn de Hooghe en de Nederlandse receptie van Jan III Sobieski voorafgaand aan het Ontzet van Wenen’ (The Polish Hercules. Romeyn de Hooghe and the Dutch reception of John III Sobieski before the Battle of Vienna), published in Neerlandica Wratislaviensia.
The paper explores the Dutch perceptions of the Polish king John III Sobieski before his famous victory over the Turks at the 1683 Battle of Vienna. Sobieski’s military triumphs and rise to power in the 1670s elicited various favourable responses from the Dutch Republic, most notably several prints by the etcher and engraver Romeyn de Hooghe. His prints laid the foundation for Sobieski’s image as a great European and Christian military leader, but also a specifically Polish and Catholic hero. Sobieski’s war efforts and the image formed of him by De Hooghe cohered with the negative Dutch perceptions of the Turks, as well as with Poland-Lithuania’s reputation as a bulwark of Christendom. The countless glorifying prints, poems and other European responses to Sobieski after his victory at Vienna were in many cases inspired by the image of the Polish monarch created in the Northern Netherlands during the 1670s.
The paper is in Dutch. An English version will be included in my dissertation.
I am very excited to have published a new peer-reviewed article, in Legatio: The Journal for Renaissance and Early Modern Diplomatic Studies, entitled ‘Diplomats as Poets, Poets as Diplomats: Poetic Gifts and Literary Reflections on the Dutch Mediations between Poland-Lithuania and Sweden in the First Half of the Seventeenth Century’.
The article examines two Dutch diplomatic missions, in 1627-28 and 1635, by which the United Provinces intervened in a Polish-Swedish armed conflict in Prussia. The focus is on ‘diplomatic poetics’: the ways in which literature functioned within diplomatic practice, and how that practice (or the ‘diplomatic moment’) was in turn envisioned in literature. The Polish-Swedish conflict was of great interest to the United Provinces, and was elaborately discussed in various Dutch media, as well as in the correspondences of merchants and politicians. The Dutch embassies to Polish territories themselves, meanwhile, inspired a number of literary works, published mostly in the Republic, but also in for example Danzig and Königsberg. These sources demonstrate how early modern literary and diplomatic practices in Europe overlapped and influenced each other. Firstly, German, French and Dutch poems by Johannes Plavius, Simon van Beaumont and Joost van den Vondel illustrate the blurring of the lines between the realms of diplomacy and literature. Poems could function as diplomatic gifts, enabling both personal, intellectual communication and the widespread transmission of political messages. Moreover, Latin and German plays by Johannes Narssius and Simon Dach, and more importantly Latin poems by Simon van Beaumont and Caspar Barlaeus, as well as an illustrated Dutch account of the first mission by Abraham Booth, reveal that the Dutch envoys featured in literary narratives as both wise peace bringers and travelling poets, and their missions to Poland as both arduous ordeals and epic adventures. Much like poetic gifts, these literary reflections on ‘the diplomatic moment’ had public diplomatic agency, simultaneously voicing political opinions and crafting artistic images of the diplomats themselves.
From 2 to 15 December, I am a guest researcher at The Tadeusz Manteuffel Institute of History of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw, which is located at the city’s Old Town Market Square. Besides doing research in Warsaw’s archives and libraries, I gave a presentation for members of the institute, entitled Polski Herkules:Północno-niderlandzka recepcja Jana III Sobieskiego w późnym siedemnastym wieku (The Polish Hercules: The reception of John III Sobieski in the Northern Netherlands during the late seventeenth century). I discussed the international importance of a series of prints made for the Polish king by the Dutch engraver Romeyn de Hooghe after Sobieski’s election in 1674, as well as the main characteristics of the wide range of poems and prints produced in the Northern Netherlands following his victory at the Battle of Vienna in 1683. The comments and questions I received were extremely helpful! My research stay is funded by an Erasmus+ scholarship.
On 15 November, I gave a paper presentation at Radboud University’s international conference Is Europe Inclusive? Together with prof. dr. Marguérite Corporaal, I organised a panel on conceptions of European centres and peripheries throughout the ages. In my paper, entitled Peripheral Polish Prussia? Contrasting Dutch Perceptions of Prussia and the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth during the seventeenth century, I argued that notions of centres and peripheries are ever changing and dependent on the observer. I used the case of Prussia, which during the nineteenth century was framed as the centre of Germanness, but which nowadays no longer exists as a geographic entity.
In my presentation, I posed the question how Prussia was perceived before its rise to power as an independent state, when during the seventeenth century it was under Polish rule. Royal Prussia, with Danzig as its most important port, was an integral part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from 1569 to 1772, while Ducal Prussia was a vassal of the Polish king from 1525 until 1660. The observers I chose, the Dutch, had strong economic and cultural ties with Prussia. Did the Dutch view Prussia, which was culturally similar to the Low Countries and of great economic importance to the Dutch Republic, as a centre, or rather as a periphery and a mere province within the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth?
Using a variety of sources, I made clear that the Dutch had differing opinions about the region: while some sources preferred Prussia to Poland proper, saying that Prussian houses and grain were superior to Poland’s, other sources paint a different picture. Abraham Booth, who wrote the first Dutch eyewitness account of Poland-Lithuania, printed in Amsterdam in 1632, wrote an unflattering report of his journey through both Prussia and Poland. Negative elements were, for example, vast forests, cruel Polish soldiers, bad roads and shabby accommodations. This presentation is hardly surprising, as Booth wrote his account during a diplomatic mission to Prussia, in which the Dutch mediated between the Swedes and Poles after the Swedes had invaded Polish territory. The Dutch were officially allied with the Swedes, however. On the other hand, Poland and Prussia always feature favourably in the works of Joost van den Vondel, the most prominent Dutch poet of the seventeenth century. Vondel saw Prussia as belonging to Poland, and repeatedly praised the Commonwealth for its fertility and the role it played as a bulwark of Christendom. This no doubt had to do with Vondel’s Catholic sympathies. In this way, I hope to have shown that what constitutes a centre or a periphery is not fixed and easily measurable, but rather depends on the historical context and background of the observer.
Today marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. For the aptly named website Over de Muur (‘Over/Concerning the Wall’), I wrote a piece on the wall that still divides Europe today: the mental wall between East and West. I argue that ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western Europe’ are merely concepts or frames, which do not reflect a geographic reality. Rather, they serve as catch-alls of various images and stereotypes, which hardly do justice to the complex relations between East and West, or to the differences within East and West themselves.
In addition, I explain how the divide is kept alive by western historians, for whom ‘European history’ often means ‘Western European history’. Countries like Hungary, Poland and Ukraine are regularly overlooked by western scholarship, partly because historians seldom know the languages required. Instead, they often make use of publications written in for example English or German, which tend to neglect the East and/or give an unflattering view of Eastern European history.
I state that historians can overcome these difficulties by being aware of the fact that ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western Europe’ are frames, which are furthermore anachronistic when discussing the period before the Enlightenment, as that is when these concepts first came into use. In addition, scholars can visit eastern conferences, or invite speakers from Eastern Europe. But most importantly, they can try to incorporate the lands east of Germany into their research and their classes. This will help to gain a better understanding of Europe’s history as a whole, and thus to tear down the mental wall dividing the continent.
The piece was also posted on Radboud Recharge, in both Dutch and English.
On 7 November, Alan Moss and I gave a paper presentation in Utrecht, at an international conference entitled Memory and Identity in the Learned World: Community Formation in the Early Modern World of Science and Learning. The conference was organised by the members of the ERC-funded SKILLNET project. Our paper was entitled The Graves of Learned Men: Scholarly Identity on the Grand Tour, and discussed the ways in which seventeenth-century Dutch and Polish travellers gave expression to a scholarly identity by reflecting on so-called lieux de savoir, places of knowledge. While journeying through Europe, travellers would often visit such places and describe them in their travelogues. Popular destinations were the universities at Oxford, Leiden and Leuven, and so were the graves, birth places and statues of learned men like Erasmus, Lipsius, Grotius or the Scaligers. Some of these scholars also left behind ‘relics’, like a pen, a last will or even a skull. Alan and I gave various examples of Poles and Dutchmen describing such lieux de savoir, including the Dutch poet Caspar van Kinschot (1622-1649), who wrote several Latin compositions when visiting the house of the Scaligers in Agen.
On 24 October, humanities scholars gathered at Radboud University for the biennial Moving Humanities conference. PhD candidates and Research Master students from various humanities disciplines gave presentations on a topic important to all: finding meaning, be it in a specific source, sound or word, a historical development, or humanities research for society itself. Keynote speeches were given by prof. dr. Leonie Cornips, who spoke about the language of cows, and by prof. dr. Bas Haring, who shared his thoughts on how humanities research and the natural sciences can fruitfully engage with each other. The conference was funded by the Radboud Graduate School for the Humanities and was organised by Merijn Beeksma, Marc Colsen, Marieke van Egeraat, Aurélia Nana Gassa Gonga, Tara Struik and myself.
Romeyn de Hooghe, Sobieski conquers the Turkish standard, 1683
On 12 September 1683, the Polish king Jan III Sobieski led a Christian coalition army to a glorious victory at the Battle of Vienna, defeating the Turkish troops which had laid siege to the city. In recent years, this event has started to play a significant role in right-wing, islamophobic rhetoric. In a piece I wrote for Over de Muur, I disclose how far-right terrorists such as Anders Breivik, as well as Dutch right-wing politicians such as Geert Wilders and Frits Bolkestein, appropriate the Battle of Vienna in their speeches and manifestos. I argue that this appropriation manipulates history, as it falsely implies that Europe in 1683 was on the brink of ‘islamification’. Moreover, I explain that this kind of rhetoric stems directly from the ideas expressed by Samuel Huntington, who in the 1990s launched the notion of the so-called ‘clash of civilizations’, and how it strengthens a dangerous islamophobic worldview, in which there appears to be an ongoing struggle between Christendom and Islam, which are presented as irreconcilable forces of Good and Evil.