Friday, November 11, 2016

Adventures in Belgium Part I: Bruges

Wow!  I can’t believe I have been home for over a month now!  Where does the time go?  It’s so good to be back with Jeremy, Eleanor, family, and friends.  I have been busy getting back into the swing of regular life in the States, and I’m finally ready to make some more posts about my last months abroad! 

Today, I’d like to write a bit about my week in Belgium!  I was invited to a conference in Bruges, and decided to make a full week of it in Belgium with Sophia.  First, we attended the Sixteenth Century Studies Conference from August 17-20.

Beautiful Bruges

On Thursday, August 17, I woke up early to catch a series of trains from Wolfenbüttel that would eventually take me to Bruges.  It was so long ago now, but I think I was supposed to take something like 5 different connections over about 8 hours…  After a couple delays and set-backs, I talked to Corine and Volker (who were driving to Bruges from Corine’s home near Frankfurt) on the phone.  I was stuck at the train station in Aachen when Corine realized they would be passing through Aachen shortly, and suggested I just leave the train game behind and hop in the car!  Talk about perfect timing!

So once on the road with my trusty Corine and Volker, we decided to take a slight detour through Maastricht in the Netherlands for dinner.  We wanted to visit a church and textile museum there, but it was already closed so we just walked through some shops, stretched our legs, and fed our bellies instead. 

Dinner in Maastricht

We rolled into Bruges Thursday night, and they dropped me off at mine and Sophia’s Airbnb place.  My presentation was first thing Friday morning, so I ran over the paper a couple times before trying to get some shut-eye.  Every time I have to be up for something important early in the morning, I don’t sleep well because I’m so afraid of oversleeping and missing it… So it was a mostly restless night, but I did manage to get a few minutes of rest.

A brief overview of my presentation:  I was invited to participate in a panel with other scholars associated with the Herzog August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel that also work on nuns during the 14th-17th centuries in Germany.  It was such an honor to be on a panel with such prolific and well-respected scholars as Beth Plummer and Julie Hotchin, and chaired by the one and only Doktormutter Corine Schleif! 

Pics by Volker!

Bevin the Serious Academic

For my paper, I chose to explore some issues that will be central to my dissertation.  I looked at the historiography of the word “Nonnenarbeit” (literally, “nuns’ work”) since its first use (to my knowledge) in the early 18th century.  The definition, interpretations, and connotations of Nonnenarbeit have changed drastically since the 18th century, and I wanted to consider some of these changes.  For example, in the 18th century it seemed to be a neutral term referencing textile and mixed-media objects made by nuns during the 18th century.  Since the 1900’s, it carries a negative connotation referring mostly to manuscript illuminations made by nuns during the Middle Ages.

Images commonly referred to as “Nonnenarbeit” since the 1900’s often include figures with large, round heads, rosy cheeks, and squat proportions, sometimes accompanied with elaborate, colorful patterning and decoration.  These same characteristics were employed by nuns at Kloster Lüne around 1500 in a series of large wool embroideries.  In my presentation, I tried to grapple with the spread of this formal style and its potential connections with the so-called Observant Reform that spread throughout these women’s monasteries during the 15th century.  In the end, I interpret these formal characteristics as an intentional style used by the nuns as opposed to the more popular interpretation of these images as ugly, or as the result of unskilled makers.

That same evening, there was a reception for the American Friends of the HAB at one of the conference hotels.  It was a swanky meeting, with great finger foods and super conversations with the Wolfenbüttel family, and I had the opportunity to express my thanks to such a giving organization.  I was awarded a travel grant from the American Friends to fund my flights to and from Germany, which lifted the burden of having to figure out how I would pay for that part of my adventurous experiences abroad! 

Pics by Volker again-- He calls this one "Bevin in the Limelight"

On Friday, I went with a few fellow members of the Extraordinary Scensescapes project (Corine, Volker, and Edmund) to the Historium Museum in Bruges to meet with the man who created the virtual reality experience at the museum.  You can read about their VR experience here.  Due to the successful historical sensory re-creation of medieval Bruges in the Historium, we wanted the chance to talk with the man behind it all.  He was extremely thorough and generous with all of his feedback, experience, and advice!

We conferenced pretty hard on Friday and Saturday, and I attended a number of panels with other scholars and friends from the library in Wolfenbüttel.  Saturday afternoon, after Sophia’s presentation, we explored Bruges.  The architecture, blue skies, and canal around the city were absolutely incredible!  Such a charming town!!

(I also ate a lot of delicious waffles, fries, and fine pralines during these few days...)

Saturday evening, we had a rooftop dinner at another Airbnb rented by the Dutch contingency at the conference!  Klazina and a group of her friends rented an entire home in Bruges, with a rooftop patio, so we all convened there for more fellowship and fun!  After a late-night waffle run (literally), we called it a night and toasted to the end of a great conference experience!


On Sunday, August 21, Sophia and I got up early to do some tourism in Bruges before continuing our Belgian adventure in Antwerp.  We were elite level tourists, and managed to visit the Basilica of the Holy Blood (they have a relic of Christ’s blood on some gauzy tissue), the “Bruges Madonna” (Michelangelo’s Virgin and Child in the Bruges Cathedral—of Monuments Men fame [watch clip here]), and we saw tons of incredible Hans Memling paintings at the museum in Sint-Janshospitaal. 

Next time on Frau Bevin’s Adventures, I will tell you all about the rest of our Belgian adventures in Antwerp, Ghent, and Brussels!

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