LANCASTER — Ohio University-Lancaster assistant professor of history Ping-Yuan Wang is headed to Belgium this summer to continue research funded by an Ohio University Research Committee grant.
She will travel to the Plantin-Moretus Museum Library and the Ruusbroec Institute in Antwerp, as well as the Royal Library in Brussels.
Wang is turning her dissertation into a book by adding new material on the writings of nuns during the mid to late 17th Century, focusing on three groups of nuns. Nuns were among the very few women at the time who knew how to read and write.
The texts Wang examines are convent writings such as biographies, obituaries, letters and convent history. They can shed light on the life of the majority of nuns who endeavored to live a virtuous, humble and simplistic life.
Over spring break in March, Wang traveled to Antwerp to learn more about the types of books nuns might have been reading to understand what influenced their writings.
“The majority of the writing I study by nuns is biography,” said Wang. “In addition to the religious teachings of their congregations, I want to see if there were other types of literature that inspired their writing practice.”
Most convents had libraries, but few inventories of their contents survived. In March, she learned that the Chaplain of the Brussels court had published a number of books with the Antwerp printers, Christophe Plantin and Jan Moretus. Knowing that many nuns in the Royal Convent of the Discalced Carmelites in Brussels had served in the court before they entered the convent, Wang suspects that the nuns might have read books printed by Plantin and Moretus first at court and later in the convent. So, her return trip this summer will be spent exploring what the Antwerp printers might have printed for the court and whether or not the Royal Convent had an account with them.
“Rather than focusing on the extraordinary cases — saints, mystics, reformers, or insincere or unwilling nuns,” said Wang, “my study draws on the written words of ‘ordinary’ nuns and explores the various ways in which these nuns, through writing, upheld their institutional identity and balanced it with their individual aspirations.”
The OURC grant, which is funded by the Office of the Vice President for Research, provides seed money for new faculty members or senior faculty members seeking to start a new direction in their research. Applicants may request up to $8,000 per proposal.