Discovering Europe in the Early Modern Period: How Literary Bestsellers Shaped a Diverse Community, 1517-1713 01.01.2022 to 31.12.2026
General project description

Is there such thing as European identity? In the Renaissance, language and religion were factors not only of division but also of connection. Cities were the facilitators of these connections. This project investigates how Renaissance bestsellers explored these connection processes and contributed to ideas of Europe as a diverse community. 

This project investigates how conceptions of Europe as a shared cultural space were cultivated in the early modern era. By examining Renaissance literary ‘bestsellers’, defined as fictional narratives that enjoyed popularity across Europe and social strata, we uncover how an incipient sense of Europe as a secular cultural community started to develop, precisely in a time of great linguistic diversity, and of bitter conflict caused by the Reformation. 

Studies of Renaissance perceptions of Europe have typically focused on politics, knowledge, art and cartography; literature is often overlooked, despite its long-established role in creating and perpetuating images of complex cultural ideas. Building on recent scholarship that has exposed the wide mobility of Renaissance fiction, this project offers the first sustained examination of the literary imagination in the development of Renaissance understandings of Europe. 

We focus on three themes that shaped Renaissance ideas of Europe: cities, language and religion, by systematically investigating a comprehensive corpus of popular fictional narratives, and by combining literary analysis with a cutting-edge linguistic research tool. Discovering Europe hypothesizes that fiction forcefully expresses the idea that linguistic and religious diversity were factors not only of division but also of connection, and cities were the places where these connections were established. 

Knowing what binds and divides Europeans is pertinent to intra-European relations and everyday policy-making. Answers are often informed by the past and it is therefore important to be knowledgeable about Europe’s shared history. Insights into long-term developments allow citizens and policymakers to make informed decisions about the future of European cooperation on a pan-European, national and local level. 

NWO grant Vidi