Room for Manoeuvre: (Cultural) Encounters and Concepts of Place

  • Anke Fischer-Kattner


While the siege of Ostend (1601-4) is not overly prominent in modern historiography, it did raise immense attention across Europe in the early 17th century. The operation, which formed
part of the Eighty Years’ War of the rebellious Netherlands against the Spanish Habsburg monarchy,
was represented as a bloody encounter of inconceivable length in various published
formats. Contemporary sources such as broadsheets and printed siege accounts contributed
to Ostend’s becoming one of the iconic places of the formation of a new Dutch identity – in
spite of its capture by the Spanish. The story of the siege thus substantiates Michel de Certeau’s
metaphorical likening of warfare and story-telling as spatial practices. Yet, it is also a reminder of
the physical, existential dimension of war. Practices and representations of violence contributed
to the making of a “war landscape” (Kurt Lewin), of places, in which new boundaries of identity
and alterity were produced. As the muddy trenches of Ostend call to mind early-20th-century
war experiences in Flanders, they invite comparative approaches to the general characteristics
of “spaces of violence” (Jörg Baberowski). Yet, as will become clear, this massive siege operation,
which mobilized thousands of people, can also be regarded in the light of new conceptions
of “place,” which emphasize particularities created in the crossing of individual trajectories. An
analysis that unites these different concepts of spatial constructions is able to link the physicality
of violent encounters and the daily life of the siege to the emergence of the new Dutch state
within early modern Europe.

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05. February 2019

How to Cite

Fischer-Kattner, A. (2019). Violent Encounters at Ostend, 1601–1604: patiality, Location, and Identity in Early Modern Siege Warfare. Comparativ, 28(2), 22-41. Retrieved from

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