Reflecting on the European Wars of Religion in an Age of Religious Violence

I am happy to report that my latest article has been published in the 50th anniversary issue of Sixteenth Century Journal.

“We allegedly live in an age of religious warfare. Ever since the September 11 Attacks in 2001, journalists, analysts, observers, and scholars have frequently used the concept of “religious wars” to explain terrorist attacks and armed conflicts around the world. The spectacular violence and massive destruction of the attacks confirmed a return to religion in international politics and reinforced the concept of a grand “clash of civilizations” as defining war. … ”

The article continues to consider the concept of “new” wars of religion:

“The comparisons between “old” and “new” wars of religion certainly present conceptual and theoretical challenges for historians working on religious violence in the early modern period. Modern religious conflicts also present opportunities for early modern scholars to rethink the European Wars of Religion (1520s-1650s) as a period that represents one of the most important historical cases of religious warfare. Reinterpreting the history of early modern religious conflicts allows us to consider the connections between past and present cases of religious violence and to raise new methodological questions. This is an important task for the present, since ‘religious violence is among the most pressing and dangerous issues facing the world community.'”

For the full article, see: Brian Sandberg, “Reflecting on the European Wars of Religion in an Age of Religious Violence,” Sixteenth Century Journal 50: 1 (Spring 2019): 176-182.

The Sixteenth Century Journal is affiliated with the Sixteenth Century Society and Conference and is available (by subscription) at the Sixteenth Century Journal website or through JSTOR database (through most major libraries).

Posted in Civil Conflict, Early Modern Europe, European History, French Wars of Religion, History in the Media, History of Violence, Peacemaking Processes, Reformation History, Religious History, Religious Politics, Religious Violence, Strategy and International Politics, War and Society, War, Culture, and Society, Warfare in the Early Modern World | 1 Comment

Containing Coronavirus in Brussels

I have been conducting archival research in Belgium as a Fulbright Research Scholar and collaborating with colleagues at the Université Catholique de Louvain this semester, but the coronavirus pandemic has intervened and disrupted our plans.

Belgians had been following the news of the worsening situation in Italy during February and early March, observing European governments begin to take steps to contain the growing epidemic. Carnival celebrations went ahead across Belgium, even as Venice cancelled its Carnival celebrations and Italy imposed a lockdown in Lombardia and Veneto.

The Belgian government instituted aggressive containment measures against the coronavirus epidemic on Friday 13 March and life in Brussels altered quickly. The Archives Générales du Royaume closed early that afternoon, along with the KBR Bibliothèque Royale, and all other libraries. As a result, my archival research is on hold and I am working on writing projects at home while sheltering in place.

The US Department of State’s latest travel advisory called on all US citizens abroad to return to the United States or shelter in place. I have chosen to shelter in place here in Brussels because of the dangers of traveling, the chaotic US response to the coronavirus pandemic, and the restrictions on Europeans traveling to the US. Some of the other Fulbright scholars in Belgium has also decided to shelter in place here for similar reasons.

Belgium has now been under coronavirus containment measures for 17 days, with restaurants, bars, cinemas, businesses, schools, museums, archives, and cultural institutions all closed for at least another two weeks. Only essential government agencies, hospitals, pharmacies, grocery stores, and take-away food stands remain open.

Photo credit: Le Soir

The grocery stores are fully stocked daily (except for Sundays), so flour, pasta, meat, fish, and some other products do tend to run out by the late afternoon, but then are restocked the next morning. Belgians and other Europeans seem to be doing lots of baking during this period of isolation. Grocery stores have had to change their food providers for some produce (from Italy and Spain, for example), due to travel and transport restrictions.

There are restrictions on how many people can enter grocery stores at a time, so there are lines outside sometimes.  In the city center, there are multiple grocery stores and it is easy to shop during the day and avoid peak periods when grocery stores are busy. There are also lots of small food shops (bakeries, cheese shops, butcher’s shops, fish stands, organic veggie shops, etc.) still open.  A grocery shopping expedition involves wearing medical gloves and then washing hands thoroughly after getting home and unpacking the groceries.

Le Soir is reporting the current number of coronavirus cases in Belgium as 12,775, but only around 12 percent of the cases are in Brussels.  The rate of new cases has been fluctuating day by day, so it is hard to tell the trend. But, the containment measures seem to be slowing the spread of the virus. On the confinement measures in Belgium, see Le Soir.

European nations are definitely taking a huge economic hit with the containment measures, but many fewer people have been laid off thanks to social systems that provide job security. Unemployment benefits are also more robust in European nations than in the States. Of course, the economic situation varies enormously by sector and by nation.

Most European nations began implementing virus containment measures as the situation in Italy worsened. Italy, Spain, and Switzerland are the hardest hit in terms of per capita cases. Italy’s high death rate is almost certainly linked to elderly age of the overall Italian population and to the heavy concentration of cases in Lombardia. Germany, France, Belgium, Netherlands, and other nations seem to be slowing the spread of the virus, at least so far, with much lower per capita cases. has a Coronavirus Tracker with European maps and numbers, updated each day.

The European Union’s response has been slow and continues to be fragmented, partly due to the continuing political crisis that Brexit created. As the capital of the European Commission and co-capital of the European Parliament, Brussels is especially concerned with the European response to the crisis. Le Soir reports on worries that the future of the European Union depends on its ability to manage the coronavirus pandemic.

However, this is nothing compared to the delays and mixed messages of the United States’ response to the pandemic. Some states and cities seem to have recognized the serious threat and began reacting early enough to make some difference.  The federal government’s response has been slow, confused, and chaotic, and I am afraid that a lot of people are going to suffer as a result.

The new coronavirus cases are following the curve of Italy’s new cases. So, the cases are going to be very substantial in the States, even if the death rate is likely to be much lower than in Italy. Italy’s total confirmed coronavirus cases now represent 1,749 per million inhabitants. If the United States ends up with something similar, then that would be looking at 578,000+ confirmed cases. Again, that’s confirmed cases, not deaths. Nonetheless, there is clearly a great need to spread out the cases and not have them come all at once and overwhelm the hospitals.

For a good report in English on the desperate situation in Lombardia, see this New York Times piece from a couple of days ago.


Posted in Archival Research, Current Research, European History, European Union, History of Medicine, Study Abroad | Leave a comment

Women and War in Belgium

Gabrielle Petit stares defiantly into the distance, under gray skies in Brussels. Almost every morning, I walk beneath Petit’s stern gaze on my way to the archives, thinking about her last moments and about the long history of women and warfare.

Gabrielle Petit was a Belgian woman who became swept up in the chaos of the First World War (1914-1918), after Germans overran Belgium in August 1914 and occupied the country. Petit fled as a refugee but then returned to Belgium as a spy for the British Army, gathering information on German military dispositions across Belgium beginning in August 1915. German soldiers soon became suspicious of Petit’s movements in occupied Belgium and arrested her for spying in February 1916. A German military court tried her for military espionage and condemned her to death. Gabrielle Petit allegedly say: “I will show you how a Belgian woman dies,” before being executed by firing squad on 1 April 1916.

The bronze statue commemorating Gabrielle Petit’s patriotism stands in place Saint-Jean, near the center of Brussels. The sculptor, Égide Rombaux, attempts to capture Petit’s brave stance before the German firing squad, but figures Petit in a heroic pose that that evokes neoclassical works such as Eugène Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People. Historian Sophie De Schaepdrijver recently wrote a book exploring the ways in which Belgians commemorated Gabrielle Petit’s sacrifice and constructed the historical memory of the First World War [1]. After the war, Petit was celebrated as a modern Joan of Arc, but the memories of her role in the occupation of Belgium gradually faded. The bronze statue of Gabrielle Petit nonetheless still offers a reminder that women have often played active roles in warfare.

When we think of women and war, then we conjure up images of mythical and historical warrior women, such as Wonder Woman, Amazon warriors, and Joan of Arc. Modern women increasingly serve in combat roles in the armed forces of the United States, Russia, Israel, and other nations. Nonetheless, gender issues surrounding the military service of women and persons with LGBTQ identities can still be controversial.

The issues of women, gender, and war thus flood my mind as walk through place Saint-Jean on my way to the Archives Générales du Royaume. Each day in the archives, I sift through manuscripts dealing with women and warfare from long ago. My current research focuses on gender and violence in the European Wars of Religion of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. I am searching for traces of gendered dynamics of the religious conflicts between Catholics and Protestants in the extensive records of the government of the Spanish Netherlands, which are held at the Archives Générales du Royaume.

The Low Countries (including today’s Belgium) was then embroiled in the Dutch Revolt, a bitter religious conflict between Protestants and Catholics in the Spanish Netherlands. The conflict began with protests over anti-heresy legislation and iconoclastic attacks on sacred images, and then expanding into a long civil war, known as the Eighty Years’ War (1566-1648). Flemish and French-speaking women were directly involved in these religious conflicts in many ways, but the sources dealing with women and gender issues are fragmentary. The heroic women who defended their communities at the sieges at Haarlem and Ostend were celebrated in the political culture of the Dutch Revolt, as historian Peter Arnade has demonstrated [2]. The women of the religious wars thus provided examples of courage to later Belgian women who have engaged in military service and participated in modern conflicts.

Although the statue of Gabrielle Petit stands alone in place Saint-Jean, she was actually part of a broad resistance movement in occupied Belgium during the First World War. Emmanuel Debruyne (Professor of History at the Université Catholique de Louvain) has examined the organization of the Belgian resistance movement, including its gendered dimensions [3]. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to exchange ideas on women and war with Emmanuel and his colleagues at the Université Catholique de Louvain during my Fulbright research stay in Belgium this spring.


[1] Sophie De Schaepdrijver, Gabrielle Petit: The Death and Life of a Female Spy in the First World War (Bloomsbury, 2015).

[2] Peter J. Arnade, Beggars, Iconoclasts, and Civic Patriots: The Political Culture of the Dutch Revolt (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2008).

[3] Emmanuel Debruyne, “Combattre l’occupant en Belgique et dans les départements français occupés en 1914-1918: Une « résistance avant la lettre »?,” Vingtième Siècle. Revue d’histoire, 115 (juillet-septembre 2012): 15-30; Emmanuel Debruyne et Laurence van Ypersele, eds., Je serai fusillé demain. Les dernières lettres des patriotes belges et français fusillés par l’occupant, 1914-1918 (Bruxelles : Racine , 2011).

Note: A version of this essay will be posted on the website of the Fulbright in Belgium Program.

Posted in Archival Research, Civil Conflict, Civilians and Refugees in War, Current Research, Early Modern Europe, Early Modern World, Empires and Imperialism, European History, European Wars of Religion, French History, French Wars of Religion, Gender and Warfare, History of Violence, Laws of War, Reformation History, Religious Violence, War and Society, War, Culture, and Society, Warfare in the Early Modern World, Women and Gender History | Leave a comment

Newberry Library Graduate Student Conference

The Center for Renaissance Studies at the Newberry Library is hosting its annual Multidisciplinary Graduate Student Conference on 23-25 January 2020.

Here is the announcement from the Center for Renaissance Studies:

CRS announces the schedule for the 2020 Multidisciplinary Graduate Student Conference. Organized and run by advanced doctoral students, this conference has become a premier opportunity for emerging scholars to present papers, participate in discussions, and develop collaborations across the field of medieval, Renaissance, and early modern studies in Europe, the Americas, and the Mediterranean world. Participants from a wide variety of disciplines find a supportive and collegial forum for their work, meet future colleagues from other institutions and disciplines, and become familiar with the Newberry and its resources.

For the full schedule and other information, visit the conference website here:

Posted in Conferences, Court Studies, Cultural History, Early Modern Europe, Early Modern World, European History, European Wars of Religion, Graduate Work in History, Italian History, Religious History, Renaissance Art and History | Leave a comment

Postdoctoral Fellowship on Hérnan Colón

A postdoctoral fellowship in early modern studies is being offered by the Arnamagnæan Institute at the University of Copenhagen.

Here is the Arnamagnæan Institute’s call for applications:

Postdoctoral Position – Hernando Colón’s Book of Books

The Arnamagnæan Institute, Department of Nordic Studies and Linguistics, Faculty of Humanities, University of Copenhagen Denmark, invites applications for a two year postdoctoral position to be filled by 1 April 2020 or as soon as possible thereafter.

Hernando Colón’s Book of Books
Earlier this year a remarkable discovery was made at the University of Copenhagen’s Arnamagnæan Institute, when one of the manuscripts in the collection was positively identified as El libro de los epítomes, one of the principal bibliographical tools from the library of Hernando Colón (1488-1539), son of the navigator Christopher Columbus.

Long believed to be missing, the book’s discovery has been hailed as one of the most exciting developments in early modern book history for decades, and the University of Copenhagen has therefore decided to launch a three-year research project focusing on this remarkable book. Funding for the project is provided by the Carlsberg Foundation.

The Principal Investigator is Professor Matthew Driscoll of the Arnamagnæan Institute, who will oversee the production of an edition and translation of the Libro, both in digital and print form.

Job content
The project is seeking a postdoctoral researcher, to be based at the Arnamagnæan Institute, for a two-year period starting at some point between 1 April 2020, the project’s starting date, and 1 April 2021. The successful candidate will be expected to assist with the editorial work by, among other things:

  • Identifying the books which are summarised in the Libro and linking them to entries in the other bibliographical tools in Colón’s library.
  • Determining whether the books still exist in Colón’s library, and finding copies and descriptions elsewhere; identifying digital copies where they exist.
  • Mapping the book-trade in the early 16th century on the basis of Colón’s notes and comments.
  • And, most importantly, analysing the epitomes as evidence of reading practices in the 16th century, and situating them within/against other contemporary practices by humanists and other scholars from across Europe and beyond.

Qualification requirements
In order to be considered for the position applicants must have research qualifications at least corresponding to what can be achieved as part of a successfully completed PhD within a relevant field.

Applicants should have a PhD-degree or equivalent in a relevant subject, such as Classical philology, Spanish or Early Modern History. Requirements for the position include:

  • A solid knowledge of Latin, especially medieval and early modern, as well as fluency in Spanish and, ideally, Italian and French. English is the working language of the project and hence also required at a high level. Familiarity with Danish, or a willingness to acquire such, would be an advantage but is not required.
  • A background in book and collection history, European literature and the history of ideas in the early modern period.
  • Experience in conducting research into primary sources in archives and special collections libraries.
  • Familiarity with digital tools and techniques used in humanities.

For further information about the position, please contact professor Matthew Driscoll,

See the full call for applications on H-Net.

Posted in Archival Research, Cartographic History, Court Studies, Cultural History, Early Modern Europe, Early Modern World, Empires and Imperialism, European History, Globalization, History in the Media, History of the Book, Humanities Education, Information Management, Intellectual History, Museums and Historical Memory, Noble Culture and History of Elites, Political Culture, Reformation History, Religious History, Renaissance Art and History, Warfare in the Early Modern World, World History | Leave a comment

Vichy France Offers Insights into the Trump Era

The Vichy government in occupied France during the Second World War became notorious for its collaboration with Nazi Germany and its organization of deportations of Jews and its participation in the bureaucratic mechanisms of the Holocaust.

The Vichy regime and its history continue to be highly controversial in modern French politics and the labels Vichy or collabo can be used as insults in French language. Since the 1980s, the legacy of Vichy collaboration with Nazi Germany has emerged as a key aspect in debates over French politics and historical memory, based on the historical research of Robert O. Paxton and other historians of Vichy France.

In a new op-ed piece, French historian Robert Zaretsky considers whether the history of Vichy France offers insights in to America in the Trump Era.

Zaretsky’s op-ed appears in the New York Times.

Posted in European History, European Union, French History, History in the Media, History of Violence, Human Rights, Museums and Historical Memory, War, Culture, and Society | Leave a comment

Operation Night Watch

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has launched Operation Night Watch, a project to restore Rembrandt van Rijn’s Night Watch in view of museum audiences and live streaming online.

The restoration of Night Watch is part of the Rijksmuseum’s Year of Rembrandt in 2019, celebrating the 350th anniversary of the death of the famous Dutch artist.

Night Watch is a great artistic masterpiece, but also an important historical document of Dutch civic patriotism and military culture during the Dutch Revolt (1566-1648), one of the major conflicts of the European Wars of Religion.

Operation Night Watch and the live stream of restoration of Night Watch is available on the Rijksmuseum website. The Rijksmuseum also has a virtual tour of the iconic painting online. The museum’s website also has further information on the artist Rembrandt van Rijn.


Posted in Art History, Civil Conflict, Civilians and Refugees in War, Cultural History, Early Modern Europe, Early Modern World, European History, European Wars of Religion, History in the Media, Museums and Historical Memory, Noble Culture and History of Elites, Political Culture, Reformation History, Revolts and Revolutions, War, Culture, and Society, Warfare in the Early Modern World | Leave a comment

Oral History Jobs

Many cultural organizations and foundations hire historians to conduct historical research, analyze historical sources, present historical findings, and manage archival collections.

The HistoryMakers, a non-profit organization based in Chicago, is currently hiring video oral historians. Here is the announcement:

The HistoryMakers seeks to hire a full-time Video Oral History Publisher in order to make The HistoryMakers Digital Archive accessible to users worldwide. Those hired must have a background in African American, American, women and gender studies, anthropology, social history, economics, politics, STEM/medicine, the arts, library or information science or other related fields and will work as  part of a publishing team that will process and add 40-45 interviews/month to The HistoryMakers Digital Archive (each interview is 3-6 hours in length). The person hired must have excellent writing skills. They must also have prior experience as a proofreader/editor and be an expert researcher and writer who can accurately describe in a concise and accurate manner the contents of each videotaped segment. The interviews cover 20th century history interviews across a wide variety of occupations, geographic areas and fields (i.e. STEM, law, art, education, music, etc.). The publisher will be responsible for:

  • Watching the assigned interviews in The HistoryMakers Video Oral History Collection ( and proofreading each interview under a 3-4 interviews per week quota system;
  • Audit/editing the assigned interviews and dividing the interviews with chapter headings to provide for easy access;
  • Writing abstracts for each 30 minutes videotaped section of the assigned interview;
  • Evaluating each assigned interview in accordance with The HistoryMakers guidelines and procedures (;
  • Choosing video clips and assigning clip titles that reflect the clip’s contents for use in future productions and for use on The HistoryMakers website;
  • Writing social media posts and blogs that reflect the content of the interviews;
  •  Performing quality control testing on the assigned interviews and uploading them to The HistoryMakers Digital Archive; and
  • Working as a part of a team in order to process and add 40-45 interviews per month to The HistoryMakers Digital Archive.

Candidates must have strong administrative skills (type 60 wpm), be naturally detailed, and possess superior proofreading and organizational skills. Prior experience with detailed paper file, desktop and electronic file management along with prior experience working with databases. Candidates must also demonstrate their interest in furthering The HistoryMakers mission and growth.

For more information, see the full job posting on H-Net.

Posted in Careers in History, Digital Humanities, Graduate Work in History, History in the Media, Humanities Education, Museums and Historical Memory, Undergraduate Work in History | Leave a comment

New Italian Paleography Website

The Center for Renaissance Studies at the Newberry Library has created a new Italian paleography website and digital resource.

This resource will be incredibly useful resource for advanced undergraduate students, graduate students, and researchers in Renaissance studies.

Here is the Center for Renaissance Studies’ announcement:

The Newberry Library’s Center for Renaissance Studies proudly launches a new digital resource devoted to Italian paleography, sponsored by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Paleography, the study of the history of handwriting and scripts in books, manuscripts, and other documents, is essential for scholarly research in the humanities for the premodern period.  Created and edited by Isabella Magni (Newberry Library), Lia Markey (Newberry Library), and Maddalena Signorini (Università di Roma-Tor Vergata) in collaboration with the University of Toronto Libraries Information Technology Services and the Walter J. Ong S.J. Center for Digital Humanities at St. Louis University, this new website provides pedagogical tools for the study of Italian vernacular handwriting from 1100 to 1700 using manuscripts in the Newberry collections as well as other US institutions. The new paleography site complements a resource devoted to French paleography launched in 2016, also funded by the Mellon Foundation and designed in partnership between the Newberry, Toronto, and St. Louis. Like the French site, the intended audience of the Italian site is varied: scholars preparing to conduct research in Italian archives; students studying Italian language, history and culture; curators, librarians, and archivists who work with manuscripts; calligraphers and graphic designers interested in historical scripts; and anyone who would like to experiment with transcribing early Italian documents.

The site features 102 digitized manuscripts representing 7 different types of scripts and 3 difficulty levels. Each manuscript is paired with a transcription and a scholarly entry written by a specialist in the field. These background essays provide the historical, cultural, and at times codicological context for the manuscripts. Using the Ong Center’s transcription tool, T-PEN, users of the site can transcribe the documents and save their transcriptions online.  The site includes a handbook describing the various types of scripts and providing the history of the vernacular in medieval and Renaissance Italy. The site also comprises an appendix with significant manuscript calligraphy books and maps from Italy in the Newberry collections to showcase the library’s rich holdings and to provide another context for studying handwriting from the period. Finally, examples of abbreviations and symbols, a glossary of paleography terms, links to dictionaries, and bibliography and references provide essential resources for the study of Italian paleography. Over the next year, the team plans to incorporate teaching materials to make integration of the site into the classroom seamless.

You can access the Italian Paleography website here:

Follow the website on Twitter at:

For more information, see the website of the Center for Renaissance Studies at the Newberry Library.

Posted in Archival Research, Court Studies, Digital Humanities, Early Modern Europe, Early Modern World, European History, Graduate Work in History, Italian History, Mediterranean World, Noble Culture and History of Elites, Reformation History, Renaissance Art and History, The Past Alive: Teaching History | Leave a comment

Historical Archivist Jobs

Many federal, state, and local government institutions offer historical archivist jobs, as do museums, corporations, and non-for-profit organizations. Historical archivists typically work with collections of personal papers, official records, company files, material objects, and miscellanea.

Archivio di Stato di Venezia (State Archives of Venice)

History undergraduate and graduate students are trained in archival methods and have experience in conducting research in archives and special collections. So, they are well prepared to work as historical archivists, humanities librarians, and specialized researchers.

History Associates is currently offering several positions for historical archivists, working with former government officials’ papers.

The History Associates job ads are available online on H-Net.


Posted in Archival Research, Careers in History, Jobs and Positions, Museums and Historical Memory | Leave a comment