Book Series Art History (Outside a Series)

Book Collections as Archaeological Sites

A Study of Interconnectedness and Meaning in the Historical Library of the Canonesses Regular of Soeterbeeck

Hans Kienhorst, Ad Poirters

  • Pages: 720 p.
  • Size:216 x 280 mm
  • Illustrations:15 b/w, 267 col., 3 tables b/w.
  • Language(s):English
  • Publication Year:2023

  • c. € 150,00 EXCL. VAT RETAIL PRICE

This volume studies the collective story of the old books of the convent of Soeterbeeck on the basis of their stratification and against the background of the community’s trials and tribulations and the sisters’ personal lives.


Hans Kienhorst (1954) taught historical Dutch literature, book history and medieval book illumination at Radboud University in Nijmegen. His research focuses on Middle Dutch manuscripts and the production of books in women’s convents of the Modern Devotion.

Ad Poirters (1989) obtained his doctorate in Nijmegen with a thesis on the use of books from the convent of Soeterbeeck by Rector Arnoldus Beckers. A staff member of the Titus Brandsma Institute, he works on the Modern Devotion and its afterlife.


In 1997 the canonesses regular of Soeterbeeck moved from their convent in Deursen (the Netherlands) to a nursing home in Nuland. They left behind an old library of considerable size and historical significance that is now the core of the Soeterbeeck Collection at Nijmegen University Library. It is a suitable starting point for telling the story of the historical library of a women’s convent with roots in the Modern Devotion, from the community’s humble beginnings in 1448 to the present day.

This study describes the collective history of all manuscripts and early printed books that are known to have been in communal or personal ownership at Soeterbeeck. It investigates the books’ production and delves into their traces of use. Many of these are connected to each other, usually because they were left by the same person or had the same purpose. Such units transcend the level of individual volumes and reveal what might be called the stratification of the historical library as a whole. They can be interpreted in the context of the sisters’ personal lives and the convent’s communal history. This approach provides insight in the multiplicity of meanings that the books had for their users.

For the first time, theoretical principles of modern archaeology are used to map a historical library as an archaeological site. A scholarly catalogue of the Soeterbeeck Collection that documents its traces of use is also included. Stunning illustrations visually lay bare the books’ eventful lives.