Drs. S.M.W. (Sylvia) van Zanen

  • Education and Research Staff Member
  • Book history
  • History of science

Telephone number: +31 (0)71 527 5397
E-Mail: s.m.w.van.zanen@hum.leidenuniv.nl
Faculty / Department: Faculteit der Geesteswetenschappen, Centre for the Arts in Society, Franse L&C
Office Address: Witte Singel-complex
van Wijkplaats 2
2311 BX Leiden
Room number 1.06a

Fields of interest

Carolus Clusius and sixteenth century botany in the context of the new cultural history of science, networks and exchange (NWO project).


The Netherlandish humanist, physician and botanist Carolus Clusius (1526-1609) was one of the most important botanists of the sixteenth century. Focusing on Clusius, the project of which this dissertation forms part, investigates how botany became a field of scientific expertise during the period 1550-1610.
          In this period networks of (information) exchange – largely by means of correspondence – played a constitutive role in the formation of a virtual European network of botanical experts and in the creation and demarcation of botany as a shared domain of knowledge.
          Other early modern collections of correspondence (e.g. Erasmus, Peiresc, Lipsius, Mersenne, Grotius) were usually created by university-trained, Latin-writing, and male correspondents. The Clusius correspondence, one of the largest of its time in the field of natural history (comprising more than 300 correspondents from eleven different European countries), is different in some important respects. His correspondents came from a wide range of social backgrounds (from princes, aristocratic collectors and fellow humanists to printer-publishers, artists, physicians and apothecaries) and included a significant number of women. Only about half of the letters are in Latin, the rest are in the vernacular. At least half of these are written by diverse categories of practical experts who had no university training.
          My dissertation focuses on the letters written to Clusius by these non-university trained persons, in particular those in French (some 300, almost a quarter of the letters sent to Clusius) and Dutch (some dozens). It aims to explore the types of expertise these correspondents offered (for instance vernacular botanical nomenclature, horticultural techniques, ecological habitats) and on their modes of exchange and interaction (gifts, information, rivalry, inequality, civilité and rules of etiquette). It also aims to throw light on the patterns of exchange, rules of conduct, and conflicts in a developing community of experts which regarded itself as a république des lettres and to increase our knowledge of the development of scientific networks and virtual international communities.
            Second, a small selection of letters in French or Latin by university-trained correspondents will be studied in order to probe possible differences in types of knowledge and modes of exchange.

Curriculum Vitae

27-01-1970: Born at Brunssum
1989-1996: Master of Arts, French Language and Culture/Book History, University of Leiden
1997-2005: Worked at the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, National Library of the Netherlands, a.o. Short Title Catalogue, Netherlands (1997-2002), Exhibition on childrens’ books  ‘Wonderland’ in the Kunsthal, Rotterdam (2002)
2005 - present: PhD student – Faculty of Humanities, University of Leiden

Teaching activities

2007-2008: Teacher bachelor program Book History, University of Leiden
2008: Lecturer Winter School, Scaliger Institute, Leiden


- Sylvia van Zanen, ‘Overghezet wt het fransoys in onse duytsche tale’: de invloed van Franstalige Antwerpse edities van de Amadis van Gaule op de Nederlandstalige uitgaven’. In: Bert van Selm, De Amadis van Gaule-romans; Productie, verspreiding en receptie van een bestseller in de vroegmoderne tijd in de Nederlanden. Bezorgd en uitgegeven door Berry Dongelmans. Met medewerking van Sylvia van Zanen en Elizabet Zeeman, Leiden, 2001 

- Several contributions to publications of the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague on the Short Title Catalogue, Netherlands (STCN), children’s books and Dutch Literature (1999-2003), web exhibition 5 eeuwen kookboeken on historical Dutch cookery books (http://www.kb.nl/webexpo/smaakmakers.html)

- Esther van Gelder en Sylvia van Zanen: ‘Ctrl + X en Ctrl + V; Knip- en plakwerk in Carolus Clusius' verzameld werk’. In: Aangeraakt. Boeken in contact met hun lezers, onder redactie van Kasper van Ommen, Arnoud Vrolijk en Geert Warnar, Leiden, 2007

Last Modified: 10-12-2015