RICH’s Holiday Wish List 2021: Intriguing books for under the Christmas tree

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Are you still looking for a gift for under the Christmas tree? Researchers from the Radboud Institute for Culture and History (RICH) have published intriguing books on a variety of subjects this year, from sports history to poetry and from an empress from Nijmegen to the philosophy of Seneca. We would like to recommend twelve books to gift to your loved ones… or to read by the fireplace yourself!

Theophanu: Prinses uit het Oosten, Keizerin van het Westen (a book on Theophanu, a princess and empress)

Dr Mariëtte Verhoeven | Studio Hartenbeest | September 2021

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In the richly illustrated book Theophanu: Prinses uit het Oosten, Keizerin van het Westen, art historian Mariëtte Verhoeven tells the life story of Theophanu, a girl who was born around the year 960 and who lived for several years as a princess at the court in Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire. She was betrothed to Emperor Otto II at the age of 12 and crowned Empress of the Ottonian Empire, which stretched across much of what is now Western Europe, in Rome. Regent over her son Otto III, Theophanu became one of the most important women in medieval Europe. Because of her 'Greek' descent, Western contemporaries painted a negative image of her and her role was marginalised. The book now dedicated to her puts Theophanu in the spotlight and follows her on her journey from East to West, past buildings and works of art in Constantinople, Rome, Ravenna, Aachen and Nijmegen, where Theophanu stayed several times and eventually died. Theophanu: Princess of the East, Empress of the West is an ideal book to read and look through to dream away during the dark winter days.

Theophanu: Prinses uit het Oosten, Keizerin van het Westen was designed by Studio Hartebeest, also the makers of Theophanu's 'Waalpainting' on the Waalkade in Nijmegen

Poëzie als alternatief (a book on poetry as an alternative)

Dr Jeroen Dera | Wereldbibliotheek | September 2021

poezie als alternatief

The general public still often associates poems with the romance of unrequited love, melancholy thoughts and unfulfilled desires, and sees the writers of poems as tormented souls, lonely seers in dire circumstances, detached from the world, mostly old men with beards. Would you like to see a different image of poetry under your Christmas tree? Then put Poezie als Alternatief by Jeroen Dera on your wishlist, a book in which the university lecturer in Dutch Literature puts an end to common clichés about poetry. The book shows how diverse contemporary Dutch-language poetry is and how it holds up a critical mirror to society. In their poems, poets put a bomb under capitalism, sound the alarm bells about the climate, give a voice to those who were not allowed to speak for far too long. Modern poetry is very much intertwined with society. With her own means of language and rhythm she opens the door to an alternative of our political reality.

De groote en vreeslijke vloed (a book on the great and terrible St. Elizabeth’s Flood)

Dr Hanneke van Asperen, Dr Marianne Eekhout and Prof. Lotte Jensen | De Bezige Bij | August 2021

Grote en Vreeselike Vloed cover

What could be more Christmassy than a baby in a crib? The St. Elizabeth's Flood took place six hundred years ago. Most people know this disaster because of the story of the baby who was saved because a cat balanced on its bobbing crib. On November 18, 1421, the dikes broke in the vicinity of Dordrecht: many villages disappeared into the waves for good. The stories of a flood of Biblical proportions formed the basis for a rich culture of remembrance. From the fifteenth century onwards, countless painters, writers, printmakers and mapmakers have immortalized the disaster. Today, St. Elizabeth's Flood is often referred to as one of the greatest flood disasters in Dutch history. This beautifully illustrated book examines the myths surrounding the disaster, such as the baby in the crib, and describes how the disaster became a symbol of Dutch identity. It will appeal to anyone with an interest in art, culture and history, but it also keeps us on our toes. What does the St. Elizabeth's Flood tell us about the future of the Netherlands and how we deal with water?

Afrekenen met de vijand (a book on dealing with German enemy subjects after the war)

Dr Marieke Oprel | Uitgeverij van Oorschot | September 2021

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Decorating a pine tree and singing Christmas carols: Weihnachtslieder – all German-Dutch people who were interviewed for the recently published book “Afrekenen met de Vijand” call these Christmas rituals the quintessential German tradition their family kept alive after they left Germany. Fully established in pre-war Dutch society, these – according to their passports - officially German citizens identified as and felt Dutch. Until World War II broke out. The invasion of the German troops in May 1940 changed political and social relations, and legally their enemy status was confirmed in 1944 with the Enemy Assets Decree. Immediately after the liberation, the government confiscated all the possessions of these Germans who had been declared enemy subjects, regardless of their political preference or behaviour during the war.

Many filed a request for "de-enemification" in order to get their properties back. That was not easy: they had to demonstrate that they had behaved as a 'good Dutchman' during the war. But what is a 'good Dutchman'? Not every official answered that question in the same way. On the basis of conversations with relatives, Marieke Oprel shows that Dutch policies had far-reaching consequences for German-Dutch people and the generations that followed. In doing so, she adds an underexposed chapter to the history of the Second World War in the Netherlands.

Neel Doff - Keetje op straat (a translation of Keetje trottin)

Translated by Dr Anna P.H. Geurts | Uitgeverij IJzer | April 2021

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Keetje op Straat should not be missing from the reading lists this year. It is a Dutch classic that can only now be read entirely in Dutch, after a hundred years. Author Neel Doff grew up in the Netherlands, wrote about the Netherlands, but published in French. Her novel (Keetje Trottin) is best known in the Netherlands and Flanders through an abridged version from the 1970s. This is the first complete translation.

Keetje op Straat is about the childhood of a working-class girl in Amsterdam in the nineteenth century. Published in 1921, the book broached uncomfortable topics, including female sexuality, homosocial attraction, sexual violence, childhood life in the slums, and a lack of class and gender solidarity, which made that the novel was not always valued. On the other hand, the book is also about the imagination with which the main character manages to pull herself up by her bootstraps, about her adoration for reading and her eye for beauty. In focusing on a working-class child, and a girl at that, the novel is revolutionary.

Troost en Volharding – Seneca (a translation of Seneca’s philosophies on comfort and persistence)

Translated by Dr Vincent Hunink | Athenaeum | August 2021

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On dark days, what do we need more than comfort? We can seek that comfort from writers from Roman antiquity. Poetic comfort, for example, can be found in Virgil's Georgics: a beautiful long poem about rural life and nature. But really robust comfort is offered by the philosopher Seneca, by thinking thoroughly about misery and seeing what we can do about it. The core message is: change your own attitude, become internally resilient. Exile, for example, is not necessarily a bad thing. A wise person is at home everywhere, is always enough themselves, is strong and independent. Adversity is actually a good thing: those who have a lot to endure can show their qualities.

Ideal images? Self-deception? Seneca's wisdom is sometimes irritating but always relevant.

Volkskracht (a book on Dutch sports history)

Dr Jelle Zondag | Boom Uitgevers Amsterdam | May 2021

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At the end of the nineteenth century, sport was an activity for a handful of elite young men. Fifty years later, sports fields could be found in all corners of the country, gymnastics was an obligatory part of the curriculum, and the Dutch were passionate about physical education and sports outside of school and associations. This unstoppable advance was the work of a motley crew of sports and exercise propagandists. They filled up libraries and travelled all over the country to explain the importance of this new social phenomenon to politicians and the general public. For these propagandists, sports were much more than a pleasant leisure activity. For them, sports were an instrument in the service of a higher goal: the strengthening of 'the fatherland'.

In Volkskracht, Jelle Zondag reconstructs the rise and spread of sports, physical education and sporting exercise practices in the Netherlands. Using the history of physical education, the Dutch Olympic Committee and the Dutch scouting movement, he explains how sport could grow into a ubiquitous phenomenon. Volkskracht is an ideal book for history buffs, sports enthusiasts and people who are critical of modern obsessions with sports heroes and sports summers. It highlights the historical origins of contemporary views on the power of sport and describes the militaristic and nationalist vocabulary in which these views were articulated.

God op aarde (a book on Roman Emperor Domitian)

Dr Nathalie de Haan and Prof. Eric M. Moormann | Sidestone | December 2021

Cover publieksboek God op Aarde_De Haan & Moormann

Domitian, who reigned between 81 and 96, has gone down in history as one of the worst emperors the Roman Empire has known. An unpredictable and cruel despot, who even have demanded to be addressed as dominus et deus ("lord and god"). At least this is the picture presented to us by authors such as Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Suetonius and Cassius Dio. After Domitian's murder, they passed a damning judgment on the man and his policies. Recent research nuances this picture. The how and why of this is explored in this book. Not to restore Domitian’s honour - no Roman emperor is deserving of the label 'good': all were autocrats pur sang, but to better understand how power was shaped and perceived by different groups in society during the first century. Domitian's murder was followed by the assassination of his character, and it is precisely this aspect that tells a lot about Roman norms, values ​​and traditions, and the expectations people had of emperorship.

This book accompanies the exhibition of the same name at the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden (17 December – 22 May 2022), curated by the authors together with Claire Stocks (Newcastle University, affiliated researcher RICH) and Aurora Raimondi Cominesi (RMO, PhD defense Radboud University 2019).

Een Parijse Hollander (a book on Parisian Dutchman Joris-Karl Huysmans)

Dr Marc Smeets | Uitgeverij Verloren | September 2021

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Reading during the dark month of December? By the fireplace? Stretched out under the Christmas tree? On the couch under a blanket? Then this book about the Parisian Dutchman Joris-Karl Huysmans (1848-1907) is a must. Joris-Karl Huysmans (1848-1907) is considered by many to be one of the finest in French literature. He liked to describe himself as a 'Parisian Dutchman'. With his head in France, his heart in the Netherlands and his pen in a split, this author has worked on an exceptional oeuvre, interspersed with references to – and reflections on – Dutch culture, national character, painting and religion seen through a French lens. With tips for those who would like to travel from the comfort of their home!

Robert Parris Moses: A Life in Civil Rights and Leadership at the Grassroots

Dr Laura Visser-Maessen | The University of North Carolina Press | May 2021

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When you think of the American civil rights movement, you think of charismatic leaders like Martin Luther King. A black leader less known to the public is Robert Parris Moses (1935-2021) of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Unjustly, because his vision and unique leadership style have been indispensable for the success of this movement. Unlike King, he presented himself as modest and only in the service of the black population in Mississippi. Under his leadership and at great risk to everyone's lives, SNCC facilitated this group of mostly poor plantation workers in their struggle for the right to vote, whereby the development of 'local leadership' was central. This resulted in the infamous Freedom Summer project of 1964 and the political party named the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. These events played a major role in the drafting of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and made Moses—to his own chagrin—a hero of legendary proportions. This biography of Moses tells the story of how these successes came about in practice, but also highlights the difficulties of his ideal of making the invisible blacks of Mississippi the heroes of their own struggle in a society focused on glorifying individual leadership.

The Multicultural Modernism of Winold Reiss (1886–1953)

Prof. Frank Mehring | De Gruyter | December 2021


A remarkably versatile painter, designer and teacher, Winold Reiss has been described by P.W. Sampson in DuPont Magazine as a “modern Cellini” who defies instant categorization and labels. Reiss remains a mystery to many art critics, and though Sampson might not have been aware of the prophetic quality of his characterization of a key feature of Reiss’ creative output—what was true in 1931 is just as astute in the new millennium: “Winold Reiss will not be classified.” As a first, this anthology presents essays by art historians and cultural scientists to rediscover the rich and largely unknown art of Winold Reiss (1886–1953), opening up a new, previously untapped visual archive of multicultural Modernism. The volume presents more than 250 portraits, murals, graphic and interior designs by the artist and proves to be an essential study for scholars and anyone interested in Modern art in a European-American context.

The book is an ideal present under your Christmas tree because it combines strikingly colourful images of modernism with scholarly background information that provides insightful venues to the artwork in transatlantic contexts. If your friends, colleagues or family members do not like to read over the Christmas season, they will certainly enjoy looking at the stunning images.

Eigentijds en eigenzinnig (a book on Dutch Christian Reformatory newspapers)

Christoph van den Belt | Uitgeverij Prometheus | December 2021

Eigentijds en eigenzinnig

In 1967 and 1971, two new newspaper titles appeared on the Dutch daily newspaper market: Het Nederlands Dagblad (ND) and Reformatorisch Dagblad (RD). Their arrival was surprising because the number of newspapers was declining at that time. Moreover, their character deviated from contemporary journalistic trends. Newspapers such as Trouw and de Volkskrant were gently shaking off their Christian feathers and focusing on a general audience. The ND and RD, on the other hand, each set themselves up as representatives of a specific Christian Reformed community. They found themselves threatened by secularisation and presented themselves as the guardians of the Christian Netherlands. Contemporary and idiosyncratic sheds light on the origin and development of these two newspapers. What place do they have in journalism? As relics from a time when the Netherlands was Christian, are they doomed to disappear? Or are they rather representatives of dynamic communities? By answering these kinds of questions, Eigentijds en eigenzinnig offers insight into the history of these newspapers. This creates a colourful picture of a typically Dutch phenomenon: the existence of a great diversity of beliefs. In short, are you or do you know someone who wants to learn more about the wonderful world of the Bible Belt? Then Eigentijds en eigenzinnig is the perfect book for under the Christmas tree!

Anne Frank on the Postwar Dutch Stage

Remco Ensel | Routledge | September 2021

anne frank postwar stageThis book is a case study into the affective history of Holocaust drama offering a new perspective on the impact of The Diary of Anne Frank, the pivotal 1950s play that was a turning point in Holocaust consciousness. Despite its overwhelming success, criticism of the Broadway makeover has been harsh, suggesting that the alleged Americanization would not do justice to the violence of the Holocaust or Anne Frank’s budding Jewishness. This study revisits these issues by focusing on the play’s European appropriation delving into the emotional intensity with which the play was produced and received. The core of the exploration is a history of the Dutch staging in ethnographic detail, based on unique archival material such as correspondence with Otto Frank, prompt books, original tapes, blueprints of the set and oral history. The microhistory of the first Dutch performance of the stage adaptation of Anne Frank’s diary examines the staging in the context of the postwar hesitant development of publicly voiced Holocaust consciousness. Influenced by memory studies and affect theory, the emphasis is on the emotional impact of the drama on both the members of the cast and the audience.

Conchophilia: Shells, Art, and Curiosity in Early Modern Europe

Marisa Anne Bass, Anne Goldgar, Hanneke Grootenboer, and Claudia Swan | Princeton University Press | August 2021

conchophiliaShells are among nature's most artistic creations and have long inspired the curiosity of craftsmen, artists, collectors and thinkers. Conchophilia takes you into the wonderful world of shells and reveals the fascinating ways in which shells were brought into circulation, depicted, collected and valued in the early modern era, a time of remarkable global change.

The various authors of the book focus on northern Europe, where the interest in and trade in shells had the greatest influence on the visual arts. They look at how shells were seen as exotic objects, the role they played in courtly collections, their place in still lifes and the connection between their forms and those of the human body. They explore how artists gilded, carved, etched and inked shells to evoke the permeable boundary between art and nature.

Conchophilia is superbly illustrated and shows how the love of shells was linked not only to the rise of natural history and world trade, but also to philosophical enquiry, issues of race and gender, and the rise of art-historical scholarship.​

The Pensive Image: Art as a Form of Thinking

the pensive image grootenboerProf. Hanneke Grootenboer | The University of Chicago Press | February 2021

While the philosophical dimension of painting has long been discussed, a clear case for painting as a form of visual thinking has yet to be made. Hanneke Grootenboer focusses on what remains unspoken in painting, the implicit and inexpressible that manifests in a quality she calls pensiveness.

Grootenboer explores various modalities of visual thinking— as the location where thought should be found, as a refuge enabling reflection, and as an encounter that provokes thought. Through these considerations, she demonstrates that art works serve as models for thought as much as they act as instruments through which thinking can take place. Starting from the premise that painting is itself a type of thinking, The Pensive Image argues that art is capable of forming thoughts and shaping concepts in visual terms.