Category Archives: News and conferences

Joanka van der Laan at the 54th International Congress on Medieval Studies, Kalamazoo Michigan

Our PhD student Joanka van der Laan presented her research at the 54th International Congress on Medieval Studies, organised by the Medieval Institute of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo MI, from 9 to 12 May 2019.

‘Climbing Mount Calvary: Middle-Dutch printed meditations on the life and passion of Christ’
Joanka van der Laan

In the early decades of the sixteenth century printing presses in the Low Countries produced both vernacular devotional texts already popular in manuscript form, but also many new titles. With these works, printers catered to the unwavering demand of both religious and lay audiences for these texts. Especially the number and variety of meditations on the life and passion of Christ is vast. This paper will consider a selection of these meditational texts, zooming in on the strategies they include for readers to enact a meditative, spiritual performance of pilgrimage to mount Calvary. The two examples are firstly the Devote Meditacie op die Passie ons Heren [a devout meditation on the Passion of our Lord], and secondly the Geestelicke boemgaert der vruchten daer die devote siel haer versadicht vanden vruchten der passie Christi [a spiritual orchard of fruits where the devout soul is satiated by the fruits of the Passion of Christ]. Although these booklets are very different in form and scope, they both offer their readers opportunities for intense reflection of Christ’s Passion by allowing them to virtually travel to Jerusalem and Mount Calvary. Both these booklets include specific features requiring the active participation of the reader in the reading process. Whether by explicitly inviting the reader to move and use the body while meditating or by stressing the role of bodily sensations and emotions in the performance of reading, the texts under discussion aim to stimulate the reader to actively make connections between the life and passion of Christ and his/her own experiences. The works educate their readers, not only in textual literacy, but also in religious skills, habits and responses they would then be able to use in other religious practices. Through their access to this type of literature lay readers were able to be active members of their religious communities.

“Moving Readers”: Call for Papers International Medieval Congress, Kalamazoo 9-12 May 2019

Moving readers: the significance of movement in devotional reading in the late Middle Ages

Recent scholarship on late medieval devotional literature has increasingly shifted emphasis towards reflection on issues that concern the role and experience of the reader in the reading process. This transition from text-oriented to performance-oriented research, where the focus is on the practices involved in the reading process, has led to some fruitful new insights. New themes that have come forward include the material properties of the book; the interaction between object and agent in the reading process; habits of use; strategies for reading, etc. Research that incorporates these issues reveals late medieval (lay) readers to be active, ambitious participants in a wider religious culture, appropriating religious knowledge through activities of assembling, copying, reading and disseminating books.

This session is organized with the aim of continuing advancement in this field by opening up a discussion on readership of late medieval devotional books, both manuscript and early printed books, especially those that can be grouped within the genre of Passion literature. The aim of this session is to initiate discussion on the significance of movement in devotional reading in the late Middle Ages. Reading always involves some kind of movement which necessarily informs and shapes the experience of reading. This movement may be as minimal as the movement that occurs when turning the pages of a book. Some works regulate physical movement (for example alternating kneeling and standing up) as a part of the devotional activity. Other texts invite metaphorical or mental movement, either through its subject matter (meditation on the stations of the Cross) or through the specific placement of text and image on the page. In addition, movement that is part of other religious activities, such as processions, drama, pilgrimage, Mass etc., may resonate in the experience of reading devotional books. This session invites papers that address these issues. The goal of the session will be to further research into religious literature and into the ways in which readers develop religious attitudes and skills during reading. The focus will be on religious literature for lay readers, both in manuscript and early printed books, but papers on other devotional media or related subjects are also welcome.

The session will be sponsored by the research project “Cities of Readers: Religious Literacies in the Long Fifteenth Century”. This project, based at the University of Groningen and funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, studies the participation of lay people in religious culture through their engagement in textual activities. This topic is approached through three main methodological lines: 1) active readership; 2) communities of interpretation; 3) space and place. The research team consists of five members: prof. dr. Sabrina Corbellini, prof. dr. Bart Ramakers, post-doc researcher dr. Margriet Hoogvliet, PhD student Johanneke Uphoff and PhD student Joanka van der Laan. Besides the individual, complementary research projects of the team members, the activities of the team include the organization of and participation in various national and international scientific activities; the organization of an exhibition on the theme ‘Cities of Readers’; and the production of a final synthesis.

Please submit abstracts of no more than 250 words, along with a completed Participant Information Form (available later in July on, to Joanka van der Laan ( Deadline for proposal is September 15, 2018.


“Cities of Readers” Sessions at the IMC Leeds 2018 (4 July 2018)

On 4 July 2018 the “Cities of Readers” project organised a lively and interesting series of no less than four sessions at the International Medieval Conference in Leeds:

Session I: Shared devotional culture

Anna Dlabačová (Leiden University): Belief in Business: The Role of Commercially Produced Religious Incunabula in a Shared Textual and Devotional Culture

Johanneke Uphoff (University of Groningen): Bequeathing Books: Book Donation and Shared Devotional Culture between Lay and Religious in the Late Medieval Low Countries

Session II: The Performance of Writing

Isabelle Bretthauer (Université de Caen Normandie): The Manuscripts of the “Coutume de Normandie”: Between Legal Uses and Religious Consciousness

Wendy Scase (University of Birmingham): Performing Scribal Identity in Medieval English Devotional Manuscripts

Sabrina Corbellini (University of Groningen): Scripto per me:The Performance of Writing in Late Medieval Italy

Session III: The performance of text

Olivia Robinson (Université de Fribourg): Deguilleville in the Convent: Pilgrimage, Poem and Play-script

Sarah Brazil (University of Geneva): Experiencing comedy in Early English biblical drama

Bart Ramakers (University of Groningen): A Miracle Staged: Performative Didactics in Cornelis Everaert’s Play of Mary’s Chaplet

Session IV: The Performance of Reading: Texts, Objects, Spaces, and Practices

Joanka van der Laan (University of Groningen): Having Christ as a Companion: The Significance of Daily Movement in Middle Dutch Devotional Texts

Sarah Joan Moran (Utrecht University): The Impact of Catholic Reform on Domestic Devotional Art in the Southern Low Countries: Case Studies and Avenues for Research

Margriet Hoogvliet (University of Groningen): Conceptualising the “vita activa” as a Space for Religious Life


Susanne de Jong receives prize for her Research Master thesis

On 5 April 2018, Susanne de Jong, a former student-assistant of the “Cities of Readers” project (in 2015-2016), has received the VNK*) prize for her Research Master thesis “Read some good devout, Dutch books”. Needless to say that we are all very proud of Susanne.

The report written by the jury underlines the quality of Susanne’s thesis and its innovative approach, especially the study of readers and consumers of books in the late Middle Ages, most notably “non professional” lay readers” of religious texts, and the demystification of the often supposed monopoly of the Modern Devout in the spreading of religious texts and knowledge among the laity in the Low Countries.

*) Vereniging voor Nederlandse Kerkgeschiedenis/Association for Dutch Church History

Lecture by Johanneke Uphof and Joanka van der Laan: “Leken en religieuze cultuur in de laatmiddeleeuwse Nederlanden”, Ruusbroecgenootschap, University of Antwerp

Johanneke Uphof and Joanka van der Laan:

Leken en religieuze cultuur in de laatmiddeleeuwse Nederlanden

Voorjaarslezingen Ruusbroecgenootschap, University of Antwerp, 25 May 2018

In deze duolezing worden een aantal aspecten uit het onderzoeksproject “Cities of Readers: Religious Literacies in the Long Fifteenth Century” gepresenteerd. Dit project onderstreept de actieve rol van leken in de religieuze cultuur van de laatmiddeleeuwse Nederlanden die, onder andere, uitdrukking vond in het verzamelen, ontwikkelen en verspreiden van religieuze kennis in handschriften en vroege drukken. In het eerste deel van de lezing zal Johanneke Uphoff een aantal handschriften bespreken waarin de colofons en eigendomsnotities laten zien dat religieuze kennis zich heen en weer bewoog tussen leken en religieuzen. De aandacht gaat hierbij uit naar de vele boekdonaties van leken aan kloosters en de gedeelde devotionele cultuur tussen stad en klooster. In het tweede deel van de lezing zal Joanka van der Laan de focus leggen op de leesactiviteit zelf. Een analyse van een aantal devotionele vroege drukken maakt duidelijk dat deze werken verschillende kenmerken bevatten die een actieve houding van de lezer in het leesproces veronderstellen. Deze lezing zal demonstreren dat de religieuze partici- patie van leken in deze periode bijdroeg aan een dynamische, bloeiende leescultuur.

Paper presentation by Margriet Hoogvliet at the symposium “Conceptualizing Sacred Space/s”, Giessen

Margriet Hoogvliet:

Religious Reading and Sacred Books in the Late Medieval Household: An Approach to Religious Places and Spaces, Conceptualizing Sacred Space(s): Perspectives from the Study of Culture, International Graduate Centre for the Study of Culture (GCSC), Justus Liebig University of Giessen, D, 23–25 May 2018

Paper presentations by Sabrina Corbellini in New Orleans, Barcelona, and Cambridge

Sabrina Corbellini:

Religious Literacies in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe: Challenging a Paradigm, Congress Renaissance Society of America (New Orleans, 24 March 2018)

The Power of Books. A Social History of Reading in Late Medieval Europe, keynote lecture workshop Medieval Women and the Arts: Literacy, Education, and Visual Culture (Barcelona, 3-4 April 2018)

Signing a Pact with the Reader, workshop The Medieval City: A Question of Trust (King’s College, Cambridge, 20 April 2018)



Paper presentations by Sabrina Corbellini and Margriet Hoogvliet at the International congress “Escriure i llegir a l’Edat Mitjana”/”Reading and Writing in the Middle Ages”, IRCVM, Barcelona

International congress IRCVM “Escriure i llegir a l’Edat Mitjana”/”Reading and Writing in the Middle Ages” (Barcelona, 25-27 April 2018)

Sabrina Corbellini:
A Call to Write: Writing and the Construction of Identities in Late Medieval Italy,

Margriet Hoogvliet:
Textual and Visual Cultures in the Religious Household during the Late Middle Ages in Northern France

Paper presentation by Margriet Hoogvliet at the “Rethinking the medieval Frontier” conference, Leeds

Rethinking borders and identities in northern France and the southern Low Countries
(c. 1350-c. 1550)
First Rethinking the Medieval Frontier Conference, Leeds University, UK, 10 April 2018.

The area roughly between Antwerp and Paris-Rouen is now divided by political borders: between the nation states France and Belgium, as well as the federal border in Belgium between Flanders and Wallonia. Next to this, a linguistic border between Romance (French, Picard, Walloon) languages and Dutch/Flemish/Nederlands can be detected in this area. National and Federal identities are commonly believed to be strongly linked to one, commonly shared language.

The presentation challenges claims that these modern borders can be justified with history-based arguments, because they would build further on Roman limes and Medieval borders. Firstly, political and territorial borders were continuously shifting throughout the ages and especially in the fifteenth century, often causing uncertainties and endless disputes. Secondly the linguistic situation is strongly marked by bilinguality; stretching from micro examples of code mixing to situations where both languages were commonly used alongside each other, for instance in Saint-Omer (with on top of this a strong presence of English). A final example is the Bruges printer Colard Mansion, who printed texts in both Middle Dutch and French/Picard and who used both languages for the administration of his confraternity, thus confirming the hypothesis that language and identity were much more loosely connected in the fifteenth century than we experience it nowadays.

Visiting Researcher at the Warburg Institute, London

Margriet Hoogvliet is Visiting Researcher at the Warburg Institute, School of Advanced Study, University of London from 15 to 26 January 2018, in order to work on an article with the provisional title (that will change undoubtedly a few more times):

“Feeding the Soul at Home: Religious Images and Reading in the Urban Households of les anciens Pays-Bas (15th– early 16th c.)”

(I feel privileged!)

Margriet Hoogvliet at the journée d’études “Les réformes religieuses dans les anciens Pays-Bas (XVIe-XVIIe siècles)”, Arras, Université d’Artois

La Renaissance dans les provinces septentrionales
Troisième journée d’études “Les réformes religieuses dans les anciens Pays-Bas (XVIe-XVIIe siècles)”
Arras, Université d’Artois, Maison de la Recherche
10 novembre 2017

Des lectures religieuses de laïcs à Amiens avant la Réforme.

Margriet HOOGVLIET, Postdoctoral Researcher, Université de Groningue

Lors des commémorations de 500 ans de Réforme, on lit régulièrement que Luther et Calvin auraient donné la Bible traduite en langue vernaculaire et des textes catéchétiques aux laïcs, qui en auraient été dépourvus pendant tout le Moyen Âge : « Ceux et celles dans les bancs d’église n’étaient plus obligés de se fier aux dires des curés et des évêques au lieu de la parole de Dieu » (The Guardian, le 19 mars 2017). Dans cette intervention je voudrais examiner de plus près les lectures religieuses de laïcs à Amiens (et accidentellement à Tournai et à Douai) pendant le passage du XVe au XVIe siècle (c. 1450-1530), afin de montrer que toutes les couches de la société urbaine avaient accès à la culture écrite et que la majorité de la population avait vraisemblablement une connaissance solide de la religion, parfois assez avancée. Dans certains textes catéchétiques en Français/Picard les laïcs étaient encouragés à partager leurs connaissances bibliques et religieuses avec leurs proches. En outre, certains évêques menaient une politique active de « réforme » de la vie religieuse des laïcs, comme, par exemple, Jean Avantage (1437-1456) à Amiens. Par conséquent, l’idée courante de la Réformes luthérienne et calviniste comme une réaction contre une Église dysfonctionnelle est à mettre à question pour ce qui est des régions Picardie-Flandre et on pourrait avancer l’hypothèse que la participation active des laïcs à la vie religieuse était plutôt un terreau fertile.

Sabrina Corbellini at the “Heresy and Bible Translation” Meeting, Poitiers, France

Heresy and Bible Translation in the Middle Ages and at the Dawn of the Renaissance

Première journée d’études, 27 octobre 2017
Centre d’études supérieures de civilisation médiévale, CNRS, Université de Poitiers, France

Sabrina Corbellini: New Communities of Interpretation. Bible Translations, Readers and Users in Late Medieval Europe

 Main aim of this introductory lecture is to reflect on the central issues of vernacular Bible translations, orthodoxy, heresy and dissent drawing from the experience gained within the framework of the research project Holy Writ and Lay Readers, New Communities of Investigation and Cities of Readers. The projects are focussed on the connection between vernacular Bible translations (and religious texts in general) and religious transformations with a specific focus on the “human factor”. It is essential to approach these topics from a point of view that challenges traditional research paradigms and crosses or at least questions the boundaries of orthodoxy and heterodoxy and approaches vernacular Bible translations not just as a wish to create an “alternative” to “traditional” religion but a manifestation of social, cultural and religious transformations.

Paper presentation by Sabrina Corbellini: “Reconstructing an Urban Reading Public: A Spatial Approach to Religious Reading in Late Medieval Italy”

Sabrina Corbellini, Chair History of Reading in Premodern Europe, Department of Medieval History, University of Groningen, the Netherlands

International conference “Über Religion entscheiden. Religiöse Alternativen und Optionen im spätmittelalterlichen und frühneuzeitlichen Christentum”, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität, Münster, Germany
19-21 October 2017

Reconstructing an Urban Reading Public: A Spatial Approach to Religious Reading in Late Medieval Italy

Recent research has shown that the fifteenth century is characterized by high levels of involvement and commitment in religious activities of urban laity and the growing diversification of “possibilities” to integrate religious activities into daily and worldly life. It was, citing the seminal contribution by John van Engen, a period of “multiple options”, discussions, choices and even conflicting attitudes. Although a throughout analysis of the fifteenth century transformations and their significance for the early modern “religious plurality” is still a desideratum, this presentation aims at discussing three central issues in the study of fifteenth century religious life: a. the possibility for lay believers to access, read, comment and discuss religious texts, mostly in the vernacular (although the access to Latin texts should not underestimated); b. their strategies to find and select their reading materials and “navigate” through the abundance of available texts, in order to create their own religious persona; and c. the creation of “sacred networks”, including lay and religious alike, that facilitated the transmission and the availability of texts and contributed to the dissemination of specific reading habits and techniques.

In order to scrutinize and better grasp the interconnectedness and the intersection of these three pivotal issues for the understanding of late medieval and early modern religious transformation, the late medieval religious text panorama will be analyzed through a spatial approach, i.e. focusing on the reconstruction of “spaces for reading” in the late medieval urban cityscape. Which were the channels of dissemination of religious knowledge? Where could the late medieval reading public find religious texts? Which were the conditions for accessing religious texts? And most importantly who were the agents in this process of dissemination of religious texts and in the creations of lieux de savoir religieux in late medieval Italian cityscape? And how were these readers trained to engage in process of selection, discussion and interpretation? Fundamental in this approach to late medieval religious readership is the application of the concept of lieu de savoir (places of knowledge), “lieux de savoir”, places of knowledge, created by the French historian Christian Jacob. In Jacob’s definition a “ ‘lieu de savoir’ is a space of construction, materialisation, inscription and social transmission. It is strongly linked to a dynamic and genetic approach to knowledge situated in a spatial and social framework. Moving from one space to another, knowledge is built, transformed, divided and merged, it changes its status and value, it lives or dies, it moves through time and space and through human societies”.

In order to reconstruct the late medieval Italian reading public and their interaction with religious texts, in particular in the vernacular, I will describe and examine three groups of sources that convey essential information about “spaces of religious knowledge”:

1. Manuscript miscellanies, which will be studied as “snapshots” of late medieval religious textual culture, registering the presence, circulation and transformation of religious knowledge and outcomes of processes of selection and adaptation in a period of textual dynamics and interpretational plurality. They are moreover material evidence of late medieval “geographies of reading” and bear witness of the active search for texts and books, contributing to an essential step in research on late medieval readership: moving away from a research focused on individual book owners and heading towards the awareness of the formation of “communities of readers” literally gathering around books and reading, and actively getting involved in an exchange of objects and of textual knowledge.

2. Archival sources, such as testaments and probate inventories, reporting evidence of book ownership, the creation of “links and flows” of transmission of religious textual knowledge and the formation of a “shared reading cultures” across the traditional boundaries between lay and religious individuals and groups;

3. Catalogues and inventories of late medieval libraries, testifying of the seminal relevance and ethical dimension of creating spaces and places dedicated to books and reading, real nodes in the religious knowledge transmission networks and at the very heart of the construction of religious textual dynamics.

Web Programm Tagung Über Religion entscheiden

“La Bible et la réforme/Réforme”; presentation by Margriet Hoogvliet, 35th Romanistentag

“La Bible et la réforme/Réforme”

Sektion 4: 73 Konfessionsdynamiken in den romanischen Literaturen der Frühen Neuzeit/ Dynamiques confessionnelles dans les littératures romanes de la première modernité

DYNAMIK – BEGEGNUNG – MIGRATION, 35th Romanistentag, Universität Zürich, Switzerland (08-12 October 2017)

English summary:
Shared religious reading practices and confessionally undefined French Bible translations in the early sixteenth century

After 1520 the theologians of the Sorbonne sharply condemned new French translations of the Bible and they were highly suspicious of religious books in French. In line with their ideas, several town councils decided to confiscate religious books in French. On the other side of the confessional divide, the followers of l’Évangélisme and later the Protestants were actively promoting active reading practices of the French Bible translation an indispensable element of lay religiosity. Modern research has often taken the confessional polarization at face value and has generally accepted a simple binary division with regard to religious reading practices by lay people, with specific and clearly distinguishable Roman Catholic and Protestant reading cultures. In my paper I will challenge this idea by discussing textual, codicological, and archival evidence showing that several French Bibles, bible-based texts and other religious texts were read by both Roman Catholic and Protestant lay people. The theologians of the Sorbonne did not target all religious texts in the vernacular, and, surprisingly, some of them were printed and sold in Paris without any hindrance. In spite of the polarizing disputes, lay people from Roman Catholic and Protestants backgrounds shared in many aspects a very similar religious reading culture. Moreover, and confirming Thierry Wanegffelen’s book Ni Rome, ni Genève (1997) many lay people were highly interested in the religious debates of their times and they did not always made a clear confessional choice.

Programme du colloque Dynamiques confessionnelles 170911

“Cities of Readers” at the Society for the Medieval Mediterranean 5th biennial conference, Ghent University, 10-12 July 2017

In collaboration with Professor Konrad Hirschler (Freie Universität, Berlin; The Written Word in the Medieval Arabic Lands: A Social and Cultural History of Reading Practices (2012)) the “Cities of Readers” project organised a series of three sessions at the SMM Conference: “Emotions, Imaginations, and Communities in the Medieval Mediterranean”, organised by Ghent University, 10-12 july 2017.

I. Books and Reading in the Mediterranean, Communities, Identities, and Connected Histories: Circulation of Knowledge
– Mario Antonio Cossío Olavide (University of Minnesota): Crossing the Reading Sea. The Libro de Los Ejemplos as a Case of Mediterranean Reading
– Christopher D. Bahl (SOAS, University of London): The Circulation of Arabic Grammar Books Across the Eastern Mediterranean.

II. Books and Reading in the Mediterranean, Communities, Identities, and Connected Histories: Books, Materiality, and Religion
– Konrad Hirschler (Free University Berlin): The Materiality of Inter-Religious Manuscript Reuse.
– Margriet Hoogvliet (University of Groningen): The French “Midi” as a Hub in the International and Interreligious Trade of Christian Religious Books in the Vernaculars (15th-16th centuries).
– Yehoshua Frenkel (University of Haifa): Books: Forms and Functions.

III. Books and Reading in the Mediterranean, Communities, Identities, and Connected Histories: Book Collections
– Mustafa Altuğ Yayla (University of Hamburg): Tracing Book Collecting Interests of a Naqshbandi/Ahrari Disciple in Early Modern Ottoman Anatolia: The Lamii Çelebi of Bursa (d. 1532) Case.
– Sabrina Corbellini (University of Groningen): The Ethics of Reading: Libraries, Books and Dissemination of Knowledge.

The papers presented a great variety of languages, regions, cultures and texts, yet the approach through “spatial aspects of books and reading cultures” proved to be very fruitful. The “global Middle Ages” was not only characterised by frequent links of connectivity through all the Mediterranean basin, and even beyond to the Indian Ocean, more importantly, the participants discovered that we can learn from each other’s analytical approaches to collecting and disseminating texts, social networks linked to textual circulation, vernacularisation, manuscript cultures, multilinguality, collective reading practices, sacred texts, and “lieux de savoir”: places of the production, storage, multiplication, consultation and disseminating of texts and knowledge.