Picturing Reality: A Sunny Snapshot of International Dutch and Flemish Studies
In the last week of June 2018, scholars from ten countries and four continents gathered at the University of Sheffield for the 12th biennual ALCS conference. In uncharacteristically sunny weather (a marked contrast to the snowstorms which dominated our last Sheffield meeting of April 2012), our delegates enjoyed three days of talks, networking events and entertainment hosted by staff from Germanic Studies at the University of Sheffield.
Our speakers looked at how, why and for whom reality is shaped, perceived and represented and how these representations impact on self-image, national stories and language status. And although Picturing Reality may have a contemporary ring to it, the breadth of our contributions proved it is a theme for all times. Among the historical realities we encountered seventeenth-century comic theatre as a vehicle for social criticism; Polish views on the Dutch Republic as a military power; and the realities of queer women in Dutch novels between 1928 and 1945.
In addition to welcoming friends old and new to our conference, the ALCS was proud to join in the celebrations marking 70 years of Dutch and Flemish Studies at Sheffield. What started modestly in 1948 as an option for students of German has grown into one of the largest Dutch Sections in terms of student numbers in the Anglophone world. Professor Emeritus Michael Perraudin, himself a former teacher of Dutch language and literature, entertained our guests with the history of how Dutch came to be studied at the university, offering anecdotes about current staff and former students during a festive dinner.
Another highlight was the performance of The Farce of the Fisherman, a 16th century short play by Flemish playwright Cornelis Everaert, performed by Sheffield English and Drama students.
An important part of the ALCS Conference was taken up by the discussion of the comprehensive report The State of Dutch Studies in the UK. This is the third ‘state of’ report, which gives us the opportunity to compare today’s situation with where we were in 2006, the date of the previous report.
The sobering conclusions of the report – Dutch Studies as an academic discipline is in decline, Dutch as an Institution Wide Language is standing its ground – has prompted the committee to invite a representative of the IWLP Dutch to join the committee, Ms Claire Wengen (Edinburgh).
We have now shared the report widely with relevant organisations including the UCML and Flemish and Dutch representation in the UK. The report was also presented and discussed with the Taalunie and other policymakers in the Netherlands and Belgium.