Session details


Sebastian Haumann (University of Antwerp)


This session discusses how different layers of the urban past are taken up in current controversies over urban development. The contributions show that discussions about such diverse issues as rebuilding religious sites in cities destructed by the Islamic state, the gentrification of a Leiden neighborhood, and the construction of Eros Centers in a number of maritime European cities all draw on specific memories of these places and imaginaries of their past. Despite the striking difference of the cases presented, this sessions raises a number of important questions about how to analyze and interpret the function of alluding to the past when it comes to decisions on urban development.


Who makes History? Inequalities and Remembrance in a Multi-dimensional Leiden Neighbourhood, Transvaal 1860-2020


Ariadne Schmidt (Leiden University) and  Alicia Schrikker (Leiden University)


Leiden Neighbourhood, Local, Global and Colonial History, Public History and Inequalities


The Leiden neighbourhood Transvaal, that arose around 1900, is a goldmine for historians. Large mansions were built for Leiden’s new elite. Fortunes made in Javanese sugar, were invested in property and infrastructure. In the early twentieth century streets were renamed after Afrikaner heroes of the Anglo-Boer wars. In many ways, Transvaal, resonates the high colonial and global moment in which the neighbourhood was borne. Yet new housing blocks, built for factory workers of the canned-food factory De Sleutels, represent a highly localised history. Factories dominated the neighbourhood for long. In a unique way local, colonial and global history come together in Transvaal. 

The neighbourhood has changed tremendously over time. Students came to live in the district, the population became more ethnically diverse and signs of gentrification became visible. But some neighbours still remember the days that women sat on the street, cleaning green beans for the canning factory. Also Transvaal’s infamous reputation as hakbijlenbuurt (neighourhood of axes) survived. With Leiden’s new urban development plans, further changes are under way. This makes the question urgent: what do neighbours know and tell each other about the history of their place? Which stories are dominant by whom? What would neighbours like to know and pass on to the future? 

In this paper we present the results of the collaborative research project in which historians, students and neighbours have cooperated to answer the question ‘Who makes history in Transvaal?’ The project addresses the theme of social inequality in the city at various levels. 

Who makes history in Transvaal examines the dynamics of different forms of social inequalities, in the past itself and in the memory of it. 

The paper 

  1. provides insight how inequalities changed in more than one century along with the changes in the population, the economic and social functions and spatial planning of the neighbourhood and 
  2. raises questions about how to connect academic history with the perceptions of the past of diverse groups of individuals. By applying the concept of ‘shared authority’, it addresses the hierarchies in making history.

Between Panopticon and Pornotopia: Understanding Municipal Plans for Eros Centers in Urban Maritime Environments


Vincent Baptist (Erasmus University Rotterdam)


Eros Centers, Post-industrialization, Urban Maritime Environments


The COVID-19 pandemic, and governmental reactions to it, has given rise to certain moral inequalities, as particular spheres of society became controlled in ways that further set them apart from others, thereby reviving old debates. Sex work, and prostitution in particular, was restricted more or longer in comparison with other ‘close contact professions’, for instance. Especially in a Western European context, where sex work was already legalized or regulated more significantly, this caused discussions and protests. With the pandemic slowly loosening its grip on society, it remains to be seen how and to what extent former prostitution practices will restart, especially in cities where their concentration in red-light districts is also linked to tourism and other leisure activities. 

This paper aims to build on recent scholarship investigating the presence of ‘pleasurescapes’ and ‘sexscapes’ (Maginn & Steinmetz 2015) in urban contexts. The contemporary post-industrial era has given rise to new urban paradigms, such as the development of the ‘wellness city’ (Anttiroiko 2018) and the ‘smooth city’ (Boer 2018), which increasingly present cities as frictionless leisure environments for selected, affluent groups of inhabitants. How do newly proposed ‘eros center’ projects fit in with these bodily urban imaginations? This paper explores ongoing municipal and architectural plans on such projects in Amsterdam and Ostend, as inspired by Antwerp’s mega-brothel from 2006, thereby adding a new chapter to previous research on these cities’ red-light districts (Loopmans & Van den Broeck 2011; Aalbers & Sabat 2012). 

In doing so, connections are made to the historically characteristic position of prostitution within urban maritime environments. This extends the history of large-scale brothel complexes to earlier projects in Rotterdam during the 1970s, among others, and the reactions that these incited in local neighborhoods. It further exposes underlying tensions between municipal control and seductive architecture inherent in these initiatives. They fluctuate between visions of a panopticon and a pornotopia (Preciado 2019), so to speak. Ultimately, these historical contextualizations create a more nuanced and critical understanding of upcoming eros centers in maritime-related environments, at a time when the post-pandemic climate significantly influences the balance of urban surroundings between sexy and sanitized.