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