Another November, another conference. I attended this year’s annual Association for Low Countries Studies gathering, titled “Worlding the Low Countries.” For me, the first highlight of the congress came with Yolanda Rodríguez Pérez’s presentation “On the transnational peregrination of early-modern Netherlandish pamphlets: a remarkable anti-Hispanic case.” I’d previously come across the pamphlet A pageant of Spanish humours, as I suspect that anyone working on English and Dutch or Spanish diplomatic relations has. But I did not know just how widespread the work was. Nor that it was originally an illustrated Dutch broadsheet titled Aerdt ende Eygenschappen van Seignor van Spangien. As Dr Rodríguez Pérez points out, the English publisher, John Wolf, states that is “Translated out of Dutche” but I never took the time to see if I could find it, and I wish that I had. The text (and the illustrations as it turns out) is remarkably flexible and could be easily adapted to suit whatever anti-Spanish sentiment was current. Certainly, Dr Rodríguez Pérez’s research has convinced me that I should replace the translation of Las Casas that I normally employ in my freshman course as a heuristics case study with A pageant of Spanish humours. It is entirely in line with the politics of the period and I will be able to kill two birds with one stone by discussing her work on the dissemination of images as well. An additional interesting question arose during the follow up regarding the nature of such publications – with so very many sins and flaws accredited to the Spanish, are these works really reflective of fear, or are they actually ridiculing?
The next two key presentations of the conference were made by my co-panelists, Cristina Bravo Lozano and Maurits Ebben. Dr Bravo Lozano has already made an important contribution to the field of diplomatic studies with her work on Spain and the Irish during the course of her PhD research. However, her investigations of ceremonial and material aspects of diplomacy were at the centre of our panel. Dr Bravo Lozano’s findings regarding the entrance of Dutch ambassadors into Spanish capital some time after the conclusion of the Peace of Madrid indicates an interesting interplay in which ceremonial may have been used to settle an issue of reciprocity and ambiguity. Moreover, her work highlights the importance of access to certain spaces for diplomats, and showed some similarities with what I’ve found regarding the entrances and defrayments of ambassadors in London. Maurits Ebben’s investigations into the material aspects of the Dutch embassy in Madrid played into this very well and formed a nice continuity in the presentations. Of particular interest is the matter of the ambassador’s art collection. An analysis conducted by Dr Ebben of the genres shows that the ambassador concerned – Hendrick van Reede van Renswoude – had a ‘diplomatic’ collection, with a mix of ‘Catholic’ and ‘Dutch’ themes. In fact, the embassy and ambassador’s belongings support the argument that Early Modern European ambassadors had a shared culture in many regards, influenced more by their socio-economic backgrounds than their nationalities.
Finally, Matthijs Tieleman’s presentation “‘Get rid of that vreempie!’: Dutch perceptions of America during the American Revolution, 1775-1784” returned to the themes of circulation and adaptation of nationalist stereotypes. Interestingly, both Dutch royalists and republicans made use of German based stereotypes of Americans at the time – illiterate, boorish, and living beyond their means. However, as Tieleman showed, these discourses had far more to do with struggles within the Netherlands, as well as tensions in the run up to the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War and the involvement of the Hanoverians in the government – in particular, that of the Duke of Brunswick (Louis Ernest – not to be confused with his brother Charles). Of even more interest was the discussion that followed, in which the subject of ‘presentism’ arose. I appreciated Tieleman’s response – I believe he cited Gadamer – concerning the fusion of the horizons of the past and present.
There were also presentations by librarians, archivists, literature specialists and linguists. Many, in consideration of the theme of this year’s gathering, spoke in relation to contemporary topics such as museum repatriation policies and immigration. And while I was glad to see these more contentious subjects covered, there were some responses that I found it difficult to relate to. For example, there were gasps and expressions of disbelief when a presenter mentioned that the current head of the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s national museum did not object to repainting items to keep them contemporary and relatable – and during a discussion of Dutch migration to Australia, Aboriginals were never once mentioned. That absence was particularly odd to me considering the in-depth talks on other periods of Dutch colonisation, and I think more ‘worlding’ is required in these areas. But on the whole, the Association for Low Countries Studies conference was well worth attending, and I look forward to doing so in the future.