Brepols has opened up its archives to Master's students of the University of Antwerp Online exhibit on 'Mannekesbladen'

The past year, Brepols has supported several History majors of the University of Antwerp by granting them access to its vast archives of historical documents. In the 19th century, Brepols published many different types of paper products. Examples include playing cards, decorative paper and... 'mannekes' or 'mannekesbladen' (literal translation: 'little guys papers'). The latter were stories with rich illustrations - almost like modern day comic books - and folksy or childish themes, intended for the general public. These stories were widely distributed and offer incredibly useful insights into the lives of children in nineteenth-century Belgium. 

Therefore, Professor Delsaerdt of the University of Antwerp inspired several of his students to conduct research on these special 'mannekesbladen'. In order to do so, Brepols granted the students access to its old archives, which can be found at the Brepols headquarters in Turnhout, the National Playing Card Museum, the Turnhout City Archive and in private collections. During their visit, each student selected one 'mannekesblad' to answer some very compelling questions, such as:

   What do these prints tell us about Flemish nineteenth-century society?

   Which 'mannekesbladen' are still appealing to young people today, and why?

   Why should we continue to preserve and cherish 'mannekesbladen' as cultural heritage?

Even though all 'mannekesbladen' tell vastly different stories, the students discovered how many of them have similar themes and topics. For instance, the young protagonists in these stories often display mischievous behavior. And the authors and illustrators were also very frequently inspired by beloved fairy tales (e.g. Bluebeard) and figures in real life (e.g. Napoleon Bonaparte).

Want to know more?
Professor Delsaerdt published their results as an online exhibit, which you can discover here.
(This exhibit is in Dutch.)

The Brepols archive - the ‘mannekesbladen’ that are part of the collections of the National Playing Card Museum and the City Archive in particular - was already accessible online, thanks to an earlier project that was completed in 2023. Hence, this new online exhibit allows the part of the archive that is kept at the Brepols headquarters to be reunited with related parts kept in the other collections. This will result in further study and initiatives similar to this new exhibit.