Research team

Expertise

John Arblaster mainly conducts research into medieval and early modern mystics from the Low Countries, with a particular focus on female authors on the one hand and John of Ruusbroec on the other. He also has a particular interest in other medieval mystical and devotional authors (e.g. John of Fécamp, Hildegard of Bingen, Elizabeth of Schönau, Hugh and Richard of Saint-Victor, Jacopone da Todi, Johannes Tauler, Walter Hilton and Julian of Norwich).

The theme of deification in the Middle Dutch works of the understudied authors in Groenendaal: Jan van Leeuwen, Willem Jordaens and Godfried Wevel. Was Groenendaal a 'textual community' or an 'authorial community of practice'? 01/10/2021 - 30/09/2025

Abstract

In the 14th century, the community of Groenendaal, in the Sonian Forest outside Brussels, was home not only to its much-studied first prior, the famous mystical author Jan van Ruusbroec (1293-1381), but also to three lesser-known, understudied Middle Dutch mystical authors: Jan van Leeuwen (d. 1378), Willem Jordaens (d. 1372), and Godfried Wevel (d. 1396). Groenendaal thus constitutes a unique hotspot in Middle Dutch mystical literature, with four contemporaneous vernacular mystical authors writing in the same place at the same time. The (inter)relationships between these authors texts have never been thoroughly researched, and the type of "authorial community" they formed is therefore unknown. Were they a "textual community", as authors whose ideas were shaped and expressed in a dependent, vertical relation to Ruusbroec's writing, or were they an "authorial community of practice", an interrelated, transversal network of authors between whom horizontal learning occurred and who did not necessarily share consensus? To operationalize, test, and evaluate this question, the project focuses on the case study of deification, since this constitutes the thematic 'crux' of Ruusbroec's works. Investigating this case study will determine whether and to what extent the little-known Middle Dutch authors from Groenendaal shared this central theme with Ruusbroec and how it is articulated in and across their works, shedding new light on vertical and/or horizontal learning at Groenendaal. By means of a mixed methodology combining elements of traditional philology with Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis, the project will first identify the typology of deification in each author's individual works and oeuvre. It will then conduct comparative analysis between all four Middle Dutch mystical authors from Groenendaal and visualize the degree to which they exhibit consensus and/or dissent in their semantic and conceptual articulations of the theme in question. The results of this research will enable us to challenge the enduring perception of Jan van Leeuwen, Willem Jordaens, and Godfried Wevel as Ruusbroec's (literary) subordinates who were not transversely (inter)related with one another. The research thus breaks new ground in several fields, namely the study of the history of vernacular mystical literature in the Low Countries, horizontal learning in late medieval (monastic) communities, the three specific authors in question, and the field of deification studies.

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Project type(s)

  • Research Project

Revealing Female Participation in Literary Culture: Construction of an Online Database of Manuscripts Related to Women in the Low Countries (c. 1250–1600). 01/04/2020 - 31/03/2021

Abstract

Women were integral to the intellectual landscape in the medieval and early modern Low Countries, in itself one of the main centres of literary and learned culture in Europe. Hundreds of manuscripts can, in one way or another, be related to female copyists, authors, commissioners, and book owners. However, the impact of women on the book culture of that period and the extent of their well-developed literary and intellectual abilities are inadequately studied. A prerequisite for future in-depth research on the roles of premodern women as cultural transmitters is the creation of an integrated, openly accessible database of current knowledge about female participation in literary culture. This proposed project intends to create such a database, which will eventually contain all the manuscripts created between c. 1250 and c. 1600, in the vernacular or in Latin, that show female involvement in any way. Heavily focused on material evidence in manuscripts, this database is the first of its kind. It will therefore serve as a pilot project that could be used to catalogue materials in other vernaculars throughout Europe. It will provide precise information on which women were particularly active in the literary field of their day, on what texts they produced and used, and on the diverse dynamics of women's literacy and erudition. It will reveal chronological, regional, and institutional patterns and unveil networks of female book production and circulation. The project will thus open up opportunities to revolutionize our understanding of the impact of women on the literary and cultural history of the premodern Low Countries, and by extension, Europe.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Project type(s)

  • Research Project