Research team

Centre for Urban History

Expertise

Antwerp Time Machine - Spatial History - Urban History - History of urban life, culture, and creativity - History of consumption - History of retailing and shopping

Selling the 'City of Art'. Urban tourism and the advent of city marketing in Belgium (1880-1980). 01/10/2021 - 30/09/2025

Abstract

"Selling the City of Art" places the genesis of urban tourism marketing and branding strategies in a long-term perspective for Belgium between c.1880 and c.1980. It does so by focusing first and foremost on the 'orgware', i.e. stakeholders, organisations and institutions involved in city branding, by questioning and explaining historically changing motivations and rationales behind tourist promotion using growth coalition theory. Secondly, the project analyses how these different urban power groups actually sought out various media ('software') to create a specific brand for the Belgian 'Cities of art'. Finally, it considers how the heritage infrastructure of cities ('hardware') was gradually adopted to accommodate for urban tourism and mediate a specific urban tourist brand. The current project innovates in its trailblazing use and combination of underacknowledged historical sources of both a visual and textual kind, and by applying a new in-depth DH-approach for qualitative and quantitative analysis. Hitherto a neglected field in international research, the study of Belgium from a specific long-term historical perspective will break new ground in the interdisciplinary field of Tourism Studies and open up new discussions relevant for Heritage Studies and the field of Urban Studies more in general.

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L'Ancienne Belgique. Museums, archaeology, and the creation of national identity in Belgium (1870-1940). 01/07/2021 - 31/12/2022

Abstract

Up until recently, the history of archaeology as a scientific discipline was seriously biased, as experts predominantly focused on the more spectacular excavations abroad - in Rome, Greece, Mesopotamia, or Egypt - while the rise of "backyard" archaeology in one's own country was largely ignored. Drawing on the rich - yet barely scrutinized - archives of the Royal Museums of Art and History in Brussels, the current project aims to analyze how the most important collection for national archaeology in Belgium took shape in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Tying in with some major debates in the field, we will scrutinize slow but sure processes of institutionalization, professionalization, and ideologization, by identifying the actors and institutions involved in "backyard archaeology", the techniques that were developed, and the link with nationalism and imperialism.

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Historical Demography. 01/01/2021 - 31/12/2025

Abstract

The Scientific Research Network Historical Demography (hereafte r HiDo ) brings scholars from various disciplinary backgrounds together. HiDo will consist of 14 research groups from Flanders (UGent, KU Leuven UAntwerp ), Canada, Denmark, Norway, UK, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands and Wallonia. The idea is that by joint efforts and systematic comparisons, important scientific progress can be made . HiDo will promote historical demography at the international level by broadening and deepening scientific knowledge and increasing capacity building in col- laborative partnerships. HiDo will be organised around five Working Groups (WG), each focusing on a particular theme. Two WGs focus on topics in which Flemish historical demography is currently at the forefront (WG I: international compari- sons of causes of death, and WG I I: long term trends in partner choice, love and marriage), and two WGs work on topics in which research in Flanders is currently underdeveloped (WG III: historical demography of colonial socie- ties and WG IV: citizen science in historical demography). A fifth workgroup aims to foster new collaborations with biologists and geneticists. The overall aim of the network is to consolidate and strengthen the international posi- tion of the Flemish research units on the research themes covered by WG I and II , while catching up and getting a stronghold on the themes covered by WG III and IV through strategic partnerships with international research units that have built u p extensive experience and know how in those particular domains. At the same time the research in WG III and IV is expected to cause important spill over effects for WG I and II, as colonial population history will improve our insights of the population history of the metropolis, while citizen science projects can lead to new and forceful data efforts in all WGs. Workgroup V specifically aims to create long term ties with biolo- gists and geneticists who can both contribute to and profit from historical demographic data and analysis. In this way, HiDo aims to create and sustain open, productive and sustainable partnerships between Flemish and re- search groups abroad working in the broader field of historical demography and beyond.

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City and change III: Towards a sustainable integration of disciplines in urban studies. 01/01/2021 - 31/12/2025

Abstract

Recent literature in urban studies tends to identify and define the city as an ever more complex and hybrid reality, referring to the urban as something 'splintered', 'assembled' and 'imagined' while seeking refuge in new concepts and catchphrases like 'post'-city, 'non'-city, or 'ex'-urban. Our collective research initiative will transcend this not by churning out even more new theories and concepts, but by analysing the very activity of defining the city as a historical process and practice. To that end, we will concentrate on four concrete, complementary domains, in which the definition of cities is at stake by nature. By focusing on (1) 'suburbanisation', (2) 'territoriality', and (3) 'urban citizenship' we examine the existence and meaningfulness of physical, social and imagined boundaries in defining the urban and urbanity. The theme of 'knowledge' (4) adds a reflexive layer by analysing the long term interconnections between the urban reality and knowledge formation – including knowledge on the city itself.

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Understanding ideological bias through data-driven methods: testing cognitive social learning processes through intersectional analysis of past data (c.1800-c.1940) 01/01/2021 - 31/12/2024

Abstract

Ideological bias concerning age, gender, ethnicity and social class is a major ethical concern in contemporary society, influencing human behaviour both at macro- and micro-levels. Recent studies have demonstrated that machine learning methods (from artificial intelligence) not only capture, but amplify the ideological biases in the data they are trained on. In this project, we aim to strategically turn this undesirable property to our advantage and exploit the study of ideological biases for visual cultures in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (c.1800-c.1940). Recent cognitive studies make clear how ideological biases largely result from processes of social learning. To study the construction and dissemination of ideological bias we put forth three case studies in crucial areas of social control: education (children's literature), mass communication (magic lantern slides and performances), and regulation (police reports). These interlinked areas of study come with a wealth of rights-free digitized material and pre-existing scholarship. Through the application of standard routines from machine learning, we aim to elicit implicit patterns and trends relating to ideological bias and confront these with received knowledge. The current project is innovative in its methodology through its study of pixel data through computer vision in the humanities which has received too little attention so far. Moreover, it uses data-driven technology to present a novel intersectional viewpoint on the construction of ideological bias in the past. Finally, by being embedded in recent cognitive studies, the project will be able to make claims on how implicit bias functioned in the past, understanding better what people thought and how such thinking structured behavioural interactions with their surrounding world.

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Politicians on the market? Framing French consumerism in an age of regime change (Paris, c. 1780 - c. 1870) 01/11/2020 - 31/10/2022

Abstract

This research proposal aims to study the political embedding of French consumption (i.e. 'French consumerism'), and questions how political debates have shaped commercial parlor in an age of regime change (c.1780-c.1870). Heavily indebted by the idea that the shift from an absolutist state to a modern liberal nation caused a general 'depoliticisation' of emerging French consumer society, historians have, in general, refrained from analysing how consumption was actually embedded in political discourses. This proposal's first objective is to reconstruct and analyse emerging political visions on the relationship between the French consumer and society. Through discursively analysing discussions about consumerism in parliamentary sources, this research will show how competing political ideologies (i.e. liberalism, republicanism and conservatism) have tried to frame consumption as a political-ideological project. Our second objective is to test whether these political reimaginings of consumption had a concrete influence on commercial discourse, more in particular on advertising language. By a serial and long-term discursive analysis of a varied range of commercial advertisements, the particular political framing of consumer choice and advertisement parlor will become clear. Given its unique position as both centre of political change and prime consumer market of the nation, Paris – capital of fashion, luxury and politics – will prove to be the ideal test case for this study.

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BOF Expatriation allowance VLIR Scientific Chair Van Dijck 2020 - Stad en stedelijkheid in de Lage Landen. 12/03/2020 - 26/07/2020

Abstract

This lecture course will offer a survey of the long-term urban history of the Low Countries. Central questions in this course revolve around the nature, causes and consequences of the precocious and intense processes of urbanization in this region of N-W Europe. No other characteristic has been as typical and quintessential to define the nature of the Low Countries as the size of the urban network and the dominance of cities and towns. We will focus on several important questions of historical interpretation and inquiry, including the resilience of urban networks, the modernity of the urban economy, the broader meaning of urban revolts, the character and limitations of religious tolerance in cities, the continuous persistence of urban art and luxury markets, as well as the main determinants of communal living in cities

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Project website

Digital Heritage for Smart Regions (Time Machine). Test-case: Herentals and the Kleine Nete. 01/10/2019 - 30/09/2021

Abstract

How can we unlock the Wisdom of the Past to answer spatial challenges today? The Digital Revolution is producing massive amounts of digital and digitized historical and archaeological data, which can be located with different degrees of precision in the landscape. Once integrated in a Geographical Information System (GIS), these data can be turned into a digital 'Time Machine'. In this project, funded by the Province of Antwerp, and framed in the scientific collaboration between the Province and the University of Antwerp, we test the potential of Time Machine technologies on the Herentals-Kleine Nete region, more specifically adressing the question of the historical land-use and water management of the river wetlands along the river Kleine Nete. If successfull, the project will result in A) an integrated methodology for the use of digital and digitized data in landscape history and archaeolgy; B) new insights in the history and evolution of valuable river wetlands and C) suggestions for the valorization of this knowledge in ecosystem management, tourism, agriculture and landscape development.

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Big Data of the Past for the Future of Europe (Time Machine). 01/03/2019 - 29/02/2020

Abstract

Europe urgently needs to restore and intensify its engagement with its past. Time Machine will give Europe the technology to strengthen its identity against globalisation, populism and increased social exclusion, by turning its history and cultural heritage into a living resource for co-creating its future. The Large Scale Research Initiative (LSRI) will develop a large-scale digitisation and computing infrastructure mapping millennia of European historical and geographical evolution, transforming kilometres of archives, large collections from museums and libraries, and geohistorical datasets into a distributed digital information system. To succeed, a series of fundamental breakthroughs are targeted in Artificial Intelligence and ICT, making Europe the leader in the extraction and analysis of Big Data of the Past. Time Machine will drive Social Sciences and Humanities toward larger problems, allowing new interpretative models to be built on a superior scale. It will bring a new era of open access to sources, where past and on-going research are open science. This constant flux of knowledge will have a profound effect on education, encouraging reflection on long trends and sharpening critical thinking, and will act as an economic motor for new professions, services and products, impacting key sectors of European economy, including ICT, creative industries and tourism, the development of Smart Cities and land use. The CSA will develop a full LSRI proposal around the Time Machine vision. Detailed roadmaps will be prepared, organised around science and technology, operational principles and infrastructure, exploitation avenues and framework conditions. A dissemination programme aims to further strengthen the rapidly growing ecosystem, currently counting 95 research institutions, most prestigious European cultural heritage associations, large enterprises and innovative SMEs, influential business and civil society associations, and international and national institutional bodies.

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The Magic Lantern and its Cultural Impact as Visual Mass Medium in Belgium (1830-1940) (B-MAGIC). 01/01/2018 - 31/12/2021

Abstract

The B-magic project aims to rediscover the various functions of the lantern performance within the Belgian public sphere, in particular, its use in the transmission and negotiation of knowledge, norms and values by different societal groups. Scientists and entertainers, teachers and priests, political movements and organizations: they all used projected visual narratives to inform, entertain, educate and mobilize audiences of up to more than a thousand people per occasion. The lantern was the first visual mass medium to contest the printed word as a primary mode of information and instruction. All layers of society, both literate and illiterate, received visual information about nature, religion, science, new technologies and foreign countries. Our team therefore consists of researchers from cultural history and history of science, media and communication science, and film and theatre history. Together, we will investigate the role of the magic lantern in the first hundred years of Belgian history.

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Project website

The Magic Lantern and its Cultural Impact as Visual Mass Medium in Belgium (1830-1940) (B-MAGIC) 01/01/2018 - 31/12/2021

Abstract

This project will write the as yet unwritten history of the magic lantern as a mass medium in Belgium. In doing so, it will make an essential contribution to the study of the country's cultural history as well as to international media historiography. It aims to rediscover the various functions of the lantern performance within the Belgian public sphere, in particular, its use in the transmission and negotiation of knowledge, norms and values by different societal groups. Scientists and entertainers, teachers and priests, political movements and organizations: they all used projected visual narratives to inform, entertain, educate and mobilize audiences of up to more than a thousand people per occasion. The lantern was the first visual mass medium to contest the printed word as a primary mode of information and instruction. All layers of society, both literate and illiterate, received visual information about nature, religion, science, new technologies and foreign countries. The B-Magic consortium will research the pivotal role of the magic lantern in Belgian society from the country's independence (1830) up to 1940, when its use declined. To this end, it brings together an interdisciplinary team of researchers from Performance Studies, Cinema and Media Studies, Urban History, History of Science and Knowledge, Communication Studies, Semiotics, and Narratology. B-Magic will produce the first comprehensive study of the role of the magic lantern as a mass medium in a country.

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Fashioning 'old and new'. Secondary markets, commodity value conventions and the dawn of consumer societies in Western Europe (18th-19th centuries) 01/01/2018 - 31/12/2021

Abstract

Present-day policies to reinvigorate secondary markets and to reinforce the circular economy show a belief in societal progress through technological innovation and supply-side engineering. However, what is crucial in understanding our current 'throwaway'-attitudes – and any current-day policies shaping these – is a better knowledge of historically and culturally constructed demand-side issues, i.e. the formation of long-running consumer habits around commodities that were handled on secondary markets. The central ambition of this project is precisely to unravel the mental and cultural frameworks that shaped the desire and need for products on secondary markets in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Within this crucial timeframe, Northwestern Europe saw the dawn of present-day-consumer attitudes and habits in dealing with 'old' and 'discarded' belongings. This entailed: 1) The breakthrough of luxurious and specialized art and luxury auctions, eventually of antique dealers, while at the same time the 'low end' secondary markets suffered enormously from a relative deprivation and an increasing stress for novelty in society. 2) An anything but linear shifting balance between the cultural appreciation of 'new' and 'old' belongings, which, arguably, can be held responsible for this shift. Hitherto, however, secondary markets have been far too often studied in isolation from the first-hand markets. Surprisingly little is known about the deep cultural and mental frameworks in which consumer preferences and perceived product qualities were embedded, and how these transformed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Drawing on a rich, and hitherto largely unexplored corpus of newspaper advertisements for upcoming auctions of second-hand goods, this innovative project seeks to unravel precisely the changing commodity value conventions among the taste-making elites in society and their relationship with the emerging 'consumer societies' of the modern era. Moreover, through a careful analysis of the kind of persuasive descriptors that were used to describe auctioned goods (with adjectives such as 'curious', 'fine', 'elegant', etc.), it becomes possible to map the changing consumer mindsets and bundles of commodity characteristics through time, hence revealing underlying 'regimes of value'. The latter will be made possible through a new 'big-data' methodology. A thorough comparison of word and cultural embedding in time and place will help to unravel how consumer mentalities were entangled with changing product qualities. The case studies were carefully chosen to include the major fashion making metropolises of the period, as well as more modest provincial and commercial towns, all with a different social architecture.

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Timemachine. 01/10/2017 - 30/09/2020

Abstract

What if you could travel through time as easily as we travel through space? With the Time Machine consortium, we work towards a large-scale FET Flagship project to build a large-scale simulator capable to map more than 2000 years of European history. This big data of the past, a common resource for the future, will trigger pioneering and momentous cultural, economic and social shifts. Understanding the past undoubtedly is a prerequisite for understanding present-day societal challenges and contributes to more inclusive, innovative and reflective societies. Researchers from all over the world are spearheading joint forces within the Time Machine FET Flagship project to reinvigorate the past through one of the most ambitious projects ever on European culture and identity. The fundamental idea of this project is based on Europe's truly unique asset: its long history, its multilingualism and interculturalism.

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The Resilience of Urban Agriculture in Industrialising Societies: a social-agrosystemic approach applied on 19th-century Belgium. 01/10/2016 - 28/02/2018

Abstract

Urban agriculture in periods of rapid urban growth is confronted with the encroachment of urban open space, but also with more mouths to be fed. Previous studies could not explain why urban agriculture disappeared in some areas and survived in others, because they either focused on one aspect of it (like market gardening) or studied only one city and ignored household economics. My hypothesis is that a fuller understanding of urban agriculture can only be obtained by accounting for the social organisation of urban food production. Therefore, I propose the analytic tool of 'Social Urban-Agricultural Systems' (SUAS), in which income strategies of different categories of urban food producers in correspondence to several macro-conditions, determined the resilience of urban agriculture in a particular urban context. 19th-century Belgium as the first industrialising country on the Continent is an ideal case to study urban food production strategies in different types of cities. The SUAS-concept will be tested by scrutinising the impact of macro-conditions (access to land, size and shape of a city, a city's economic orientation, type of nearby agro-system, transport improvements and market access) at country-level (based on census data), and further clarified by a micro-investigation at household level (by probate inventories in sample years and cities) to explain how different configurations of urban food production answered the challenges and opportunities of urban growth. -

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GIStorical Antwerp II. The historical city as empirical lab for urban studies using high-resolution social maps. 01/05/2016 - 30/04/2020

Abstract

In a time of rapid urbanization solid long-term perspectives on the many environmental, social, economic or political challenges of urbanity are urgently needed. Uniting urban history, sociology, environmental studies and digital humanities, GIStorical Antwerp II turns the historical city into a digital lab which provides an answer to this need. For 8 snapshots between 1584 and 1984 it offers dynamic social maps including every household in the entire city of Antwerp. Construction combines innovative ways of crowd-sourcing and time-efficient spatial and text-mining methodologies (Linear Referencing, Named Entity Recognition). The result is a GIS-environment which not only allows a micro-level view of 500 years of urban development, but more importantly allows an immediate spatial and social contextualization of a sheer unlimited number of other datasets, both those realized through 30 years of research on Antwerp and the mass of structured and unstructured digital 'big data'. For both the applicants and the international research community a completely new type of longitudinal research on urban inequalities – from income over housing quality to pollution – becomes feasible.

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Outside-City: the 'suburban character' as accomplishment of place distinction (case: Antwerp, c.1860-c.1940). 01/10/2015 - 30/09/2019

Abstract

This project questions how and why places come to be the way they are, and how this matters for society over time. Elaborating on sociology of place and actor-network conceptualisations, we will analyse seven comparable suburbs around Antwerp (Wijnegem, Wommelgem, Borsbeek, Mortsel, Edegem, Wilrijk and Hoboken) to determine how and why a multitude of elements conjoin for certain reasons to create a particular sense of place or 'surburban character' at a given moment in history. Next, we question how such suburban distinctiveness becomes structured and is adapted through time in path-dependent ways. We will research these questions empirically between c.1860-c.1940 by making use of historical data and sources reflecting macro, meso and micro levels of society.

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Practicing domesticity in an age of transition. Material cultures and discourses of inclusion and exclusion in 19th-c. Antwerp. 01/10/2014 - 30/09/2015

Abstract

This project is about the daily practices and material aspects that constituted the experience of 'home' in 19th-c. Antwerp. While early modern consumption and late 19th-c. shopping practices have thoroughly been studied, a lack of interest in the material practices of 19th-c. homemaking can be observed. Yet, the profound redefinition of domestic life and 'home' against a background of a rapidly changing material culture warrants scholarly scrutiny to come to a calibrated notion of 'domesticity' and 'home' in this age of critical transition. By means of a long-term, systematic analysis of probate inventories for 19th-c. Antwerp, the first purpose of this project is to determine how the domestic ideology got inscribed in the interior. Secondly, this research aims to consider whether and how (changes in) material practices in the 19th-c. contributed to processes of social inclusion and exclusion. How material practices were connected to the overarching issue of social inequality

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Collectors of the 'Wreckage of History'. Towards a reconstruction of the 'Antiquarian Milieu' in Belgium (ca. 1760 - ca. 1860). 01/01/2014 - 30/09/2014

Abstract

This project wants to offer a reconstruction and fuller understanding of the diversity of actors constituting an emerging milieu of antiquarian collectors during the dawn of the Belgium nation state (ca. 1760-ca. 1860). So far, no attempt has been undertaken to bring fragmented research and analysis into the antiquarian together in a new, integrated research initiative. The foundation of this undertaking rests on the construction of a prosopographic research database. Currently, no such research tool exists that allows for identification, categorization, and analysis of the emerging milieu of antiquarians in Belgium. Such research tool will form the cornerstone for the study of the formation, internal cohesion, institutionalisation, and social changes within the milieu of antiquarians. Questions relating to social profile, collecting practices, intellectual motivations, and the impact and function of antiquarians in Belgium society will from the internal rationale and driving logic behind this project.

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Mapping the landscape of consumption: digitalising nineteenth-century 'adresboeken' of Antwerp and Bruges 01/01/2012 - 31/12/2012

Abstract

The goal of this project resides in securing the necessary funding for a database-structured breakdown of almanacs, and this for three well chosen sample years (1837, 1867 and 1897), and for two differing, but complementary nineteenth-century cities, namely Antwerp and Bruges. Almanac are unique sources, which provide information on the morphological, social and economic functioning of cities not readily found elsewhere. These databases will first be rendered fruitful in the context of my own research on the retail infrastructure and consumption patterns in nineteenth-century cities. Afterwards, the databse will be made public to other researchers as well.

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City and change. The City as the object of study in a historical light. 01/01/2011 - 31/12/2020

Abstract

Recent literature in urban studies tends to identify and define the city as an ever more complex and hybrid reality, referring to the urban as something 'splintered', 'assembled' and 'imagined' while seeking refuge in new concepts and catchphrases like 'post'-city, 'non'-city, or 'ex'-urban. Our collective research initiative will transcend this not by churning out even more new theories and concepts, but by analysing the very activity of defining the city as a historical process and practice. To that end, we will concentrate on four concrete, complementary domains, in which the definition of cities is at stake by nature. By focusing on (1) 'suburbanisation', (2) 'territoriality', and (3) 'urban citizenship' we examine the existence and meaningfulness of physical, social and imagined boundaries in defining the urban and urbanity. The theme of 'knowledge' (4) adds a reflexive layer by analysing the long term interconnections between the urban reality and knowledge formation – including knowledge on the city itself.

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Research team(s)

The 'death of the ass' reconsidered. Consumer desires and second-hand markets in Bruges, ca. 1750-ca. 1914. 01/10/2009 - 30/09/2013

Abstract

This is a fundamental research project financed by the Research Foundation - Flanders (FWO). The project was subsidized after selection by the FWO-expert panel.

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As good as old: second-hand consumption and the dawn of modernity, ca. 1750-ca. 1870. 01/02/2009 - 31/12/2010

Abstract

The proposed project focuses on the changing nature of second-hand in times of increasing industrialization and modernization (c. 1750-1870). For the moment, the processing of complex data-matrices is the order of the day; just as the ongoing research requires necessary comparative testing. A strictly planned study- and research stay at the University of California in Berkeley, is essential in this aspect.

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Project website

At the fringes of modernity? Commercial recycling in an age of transformation, ca. 1750- ca. 1850. 01/10/2006 - 30/09/2009

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Consumer changes and commercial circuits. Changing consumer preferences and retail dynamics of a city in `crisis. Antwerp, ca. 1648-ca. 1748. 01/10/2004 - 30/09/2006

Abstract

This project focuses on the retailing and the consuming of durable consumables in early modern Antwerp. It tackles retail and consumer (r)evolutions simultaneously, thus seeing them as different sides of the same development Antwerp went through in the 17th and 18th centuries. The major goal of this project is to demonstrate that we can only fully understand early modern retail changes (both from a qualitative and quantitative viewpoint) when simultaneously consumer changes are taken into account. For making this claim three distinct changes in the buying of home-goods will be analyzed, thus considering their impact on retailing: (1) The growing dependence on fashion (2) The growing diversity in goods (3) The slackening durability of goods

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Consumers and commercial circuits. Retailing and consumer durables in Antwerp and Brussels in the 'age of crisis' (ca. 1648 - 1748). 01/10/2002 - 30/09/2004

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