TWU professor authors new book that sheds light on historical gender issues and makes 500 year old letters available in English for the first time


Langley, British Columbia—Though the two Rozmberk sisters lived in Eastern Europe over 500 years ago, their correspondence has made its way to the Fort Langley home of John Klassen, PhD, professor of history at Trinity Western University. For the past five years, Klassen, an expert in fifteenth century gender studies, has been tracking, translating and studying their letters, and has recently published his work in his new book, The Letters of the Rozmberk Sisters.

Letters written by the Rozmberk sisters, daughters of one of the most powerful families in the country of Bohemia, now called the Czech Republic, are some of the few documents recorded by women during this time in history. “Upper-class families kept archives for themselves, but did not keep records for daughters,” says Klassen. “However, this family did.”

Klassen’s book includes his own observations along with 70 letters penned by the Rozmberk sisters, 40 of which are authored by one sister who laments her arranged marriage. Klassen’s publication is the eleventh book in The Library of Medieval Women, a collection of works by various authors, based out of Suffolk, England. And while his work may gain strong interest from those who enjoy studying history, Klassen states that the book contains a message reaching all.

“It’s a human interest story,” says Klassen. “It addresses the question, ‘how do you deal with a life that isn’t going the direction that you wanted it to go or that you expected it to go?’ The more I live, the more I realize that this is a common issue many of us still face today.”

Klassen, who has researched Czech history for over 20 years, discovered the writings while searching through archives in Canada and in the Czech Republic. Intrigued by their scarcity, he decided to examine deeper gender-related issues raised by the correspondence.

“When you look at these letters in context with how medieval society viewed women, you see how medieval women coped with unhappiness in a social system which granted them no power,” says Klassen. “It is a powerful testimony to the strength of a family and shows an interesting path of self-discovery.”

In addition to teaching courses on the history of civilization and history of the family at TWU, Klassen spent hours outside of the classroom translating the correspondence to ensure others would have the opportunity to study the rare letters. While the Czech letters had been previously published, Klassen’s book contains the first English translation of the letters.

His book also contains translations of German letters written by the Rozmberk sisters, and is the first time their German correspondence appears in print in any language. Czech scholars plan to publish Klassen’s translations of the German letters as well.

“My historical colleagues were extremely helpful,” says Klassen, who passed his translations by scholars at the Historical Institute of Prague to review and check for accuracy. Klassen will visit Prague, the capital city of the Czech Republic, this summer to continue his historical research there.

Trinity Western University, located in Langley, B.C., is a privately funded Christian liberal arts university enrolling 2,850 students this year. With a broad-based, liberal arts and sciences curriculum, the University offers undergraduate degrees in 34 major areas ranging from business, education and computer science to biology and nursing, and 12 graduate degrees including counselling psychology, theology and administrative leadership.

Last Updated: 2012-08-21
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