Research team

Expertise

Medieval history, Middle Ages, Urban history, Economic history, Cultural History, Lottery, history of the future, future thinking, Financial History, Political History

ZAPBOF research professorship for ERC Starting Grant 01/10/2021 - 30/09/2026

Abstract

From the eighteenth century onwards, the future was considered as open, uncertain and constructible – the way we tend to perceive the future today. In contrast, early modern Europeans believed that the future was beyond the control of man. The aim of this project is to challenge such grand narratives on past futures, which are generally highly linear and focused on modernity, have a fuzzy chronology and thin empirical base, biased by learned text. Moreover, these hypotheses fail to do justice to the presence and interplay of various (multi)temporalities and do not link future expectations to the concrete actions of men and women in the past. Most historians simply ignore the topic, since past futures are extremely hard to find in the written record. Hence, they focus on the actions of men and women in the past rather than their motivations. To gain more insight in how people in the past thought about the future and how this affected their actions, this project draws on a highly innovative combination of close and distant reading methods of more than 15,000 letters written in (varieties of) Italian, German, French, Dutch and English by and to European merchants in the period 1400-1830. These practical documents enable us to reconstruct different types of future thinking of these merchants and to assess how these thoughts powered their actual behaviour. Better still, they also shed light on the future expectations of their non-merchant correspondents: their wives, children and other family members, clerks, clergy, nobles, craftsmen, etc. A comparative analysis of the letters from these different social groups, written in several languages, in a variety of European regions and during distinct moments, allows us to identify the impact/speed of potential agents of change that loom large in the literature (capitalism, the Reformation, probability calculus, and the Enlightenment) more carefully. With this methodology, we will be able to provide fine-grained explanations.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Project type(s)

  • Research Project

Future expectations and actions in the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Low Countries. 01/10/2020 - 30/09/2024

Abstract

This project investigates future expectations and the resulting actions in the 16th- and 17th-century Low Countries. The analysis of the contents and discourse of written future statements will verify whether the future began to be perceived as open and uncertain, resulting from the rise of capitalism and/or changes in beliefs. This project goes beyond the current research which focused on: 1) the revolutionary eighteenth century; 2) the rather obvious, canonical and learned texts written by the intelligentsia; 3) singular accounts of the future: divination, magic and the eschatological end of times, without looking into their interplay with other types of future expectations (for example, more short term or secular expectations); 4) only future expectations and not taking into account the relation between this thinking and the actions that it may have caused. This project mainly draws on a large source collection of merchant correspondence. The different collections of merchant letters will be searched for future statements which will be close-read, contextualized and entered into a database which will include variables about the discourse and future horizons of these expressions, the identities of the authors, and the actions motivated by the future expectation. The project has three key outcomes: 1) a fuller and more complex understanding of people's perception and framing of the future; 2) (dis)proving whether a shift in thoughts and beliefs about the future did occur and whether this is in line with narratives of modernity and the rise of capitalism; 3) much better insights in the relations between future thinking and the actions that may have followed out of it in the past; 4) a new methodology.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Project type(s)

  • Research Project

Back to the Future: Future expectations and actions in late medieval and early modern Europe, c.1400-c.1830 (Back2theFuture). 01/02/2020 - 31/07/2025

Abstract

From the eighteenth century onwards, the future was considered as open, uncertain and constructible – the way we tend to perceive the future today. In contrast, early modern Europeans believed that the future was beyond the control of man. The aim of this project is to challenge such grand narratives on past futures, which are generally highly linear and focused on modernity, have a fuzzy chronology and thin empirical base, biased by learned text. Moreover, these hypotheses fail to do justice to the presence and interplay of various (multi)temporalities and do not link future expectations to the concrete actions of men and women in the past. Most historians simply ignore the topic, since past futures are extremely hard to find in the written record. Hence, they focus on the actions of men and women in the past rather than their motivations. To gain more insight in how people in the past thought about the future and how this affected their actions, this project draws on a highly innovative combination of close and distant reading methods of more than 15,000 letters written in (varieties of) Italian, German, French, Dutch and English by and to European merchants in the period 1400-1830. These practical documents enable us to reconstruct different types of future thinking of these merchants and to assess how these thoughts powered their actual behaviour. Better still, they also shed light on the future expectations of their non-merchant correspondents: their wives, children and other family members, clerks, clergy, nobles, craftsmen, etc. A comparative analysis of the letters from these different social groups, written in several languages, in a variety of European regions and during distinct moments, allows us to identify the impact/speed of potential agents of change that loom large in the literature (capitalism, the Reformation, probability calculus, and the Enlightenment) more carefully. With this methodology, we will be able to provide fine-grained explanations.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Project type(s)

  • Research Project

Food from Somewhere? Urban Households, Access to Land and Alternative Food Entitlements in the Late Medieval City. 01/01/2020 - 31/12/2023

Abstract

Medieval cities were obsessed by food, food supplies and food shortages. Like in most pre-1900 societies, extreme weather conditions, warfare, trade conflicts easily disrupted the precarious food supplies, resulting in recurrent and virulent price spikes and potentially unleashing social unrest. No wonder then, that urban food supplies or 'Feeding the city' has been a prominent topic in economic history for decades, with a particular emphasis on the later Middle Ages, period of far-reaching crisis, instability and economic transformation in Europe and beyond. All of this literature however, is based upon the assumption that cities, above a certain population level, are basically fed through the market, where rural agricultural surpluses are exchanged against the products of urban industry and trade. Urged by recent articulations of alternative ways of urban food provisioning – notably the rise of Urban Agriculture and all efforts to replace anonymous 'Food from Nowhere' mediated by increasingly globalized food markets by more localized 'Food from Somewhere' – this project aims at revolutionizing our understanding of urban food provisioning in the past, by questioning the self-evidence of the market as hegemonic allocator of food in past urban societies. In this project, the key to achieve such paradigm shift in urban food history, is sought in the access to land. The accumulation of both urban and rural land by urban households has been documented in many contexts, but is mostly explained in terms of capital investment and rent seeking and as a tool of social ascent. The food generating capacity of land is mostly overlooked, or minimized as a sign of economic backwardness, small 'agro-towns' or a mere survival strategy for the urban poor. Either through the direct cultivation of land in the city and its periphery, through deliveries in kind by rural tenants or rural family-members or through access to urban commons, land might have provided a wide range of 'alternative food entitlements' for many different social groups, with or without the capability and incentive to secure a market-independent access to food. Understanding the role of land for feeding the citizens (rather than the city) might be crucial to understand the dynamics of food markets in the later Middle Ages. What if land-based food supplies did not contract but rather expand with the development of food markets? What if dependency of the food markets became connected with lower social status? After all, the social fabric of the late medieval cities was both characterized by an ascent of 'corporate' middle classes, and the disposition of alternative, land-based food supplies, might be one of the instruments through which these middling class tried to emulate the social elites, leaving the food market for the lower strata of urban society. Such observation would significantly change our understanding of 'imperfect' food markets and failing food policies. For Ghent, Norwich and Dijon, three comparatively large cities with a pronounced difference in connection to regional and long-distance food trade, an in-depth analysis of alternative food entitlements at the household level, will allow to reveal the contexts in which alternative food economies flourished; their relative contribution to the supply of urban households; the actors and networks involved in such supplies; the solidarity and dependency they create and finally their integration in or interaction with the urban food market. If successful this project might not only generate important new insights in the history of urban food provisioning in late medieval Europe, but also offer an important historical contribution to present-day debates on the viability and social dynamics of alternative urban food supplies.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Project type(s)

  • Research Project

A woman's lot. Women's participation in the public sphere in the late medieval and early modern Low Countries (1450-1650) by means of lottery-rhymes. 01/11/2019 - 31/10/2023

Abstract

"A Woman's Lot" investigates what women said in public and what was said about women in public in the late medieval and early modern Low Countries (1450-1650). It will analyse public statements by both women and men to see if this is truly a time in which women were pushed out of the public into the private domain, as many scholars maintain, and if perceptions of women changed during the time period. By using lottery-rhymes, short verses submitted by buyers of both genders from many different social groups that were read out on stage during lottery-draws, this project will avoid the pitfalls of earlier research on women in the public sphere, which mostly focused on: 1) women writers, who represent only women from the highest social groups; 2) subversive speech, instead of a wider range of topics; 3) women as the only category, without comparing them to men. The PhD-project will analyse the rhymes using a combination of distant and close reading in order to: 1) identify different types of female public statements and public statements about women and link these statements to gender, regional and income variables; 2) lay bare processes of stereotyping and self-definition; 3) examine the way in which these statements are linked with other texts; 4) verify whether these topics were subject to change throughout the period. Lastly, it aims to explain changes and/or constants over time, as well as differences along gender lines, region and income levels.

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Project type(s)

  • Research Project

Private partnerships in early modern Antwerp (1621-1791). 01/11/2021 - 30/04/2022

Abstract

This project focuses on private partnerships in Antwerp in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Whereas historians have paid much attention to the rise and corporate structure of Dutch trading companies, the origins and early development of private partnerships remain understudied. In the seventeenth century, French jurists put forward a model consisting of several ideal-type categories of private partnerships, in which the extent of the partners' external liability was one of the main distinctive features. For instance, this factor was used to differentiate general and limited partnerships. However, these ideal-types are based on French legal sources and cannot simply be translated to the Low Countries. Preliminary studies on partnership contracts in early modern Antwerp (1480-1620) have demonstrated that entrepreneurs did not think in terms of liability to third parties; instead, they were more concerned with partnership-internal relationships. The discrepancy between, on the one hand, the ideal-types, and, on the other hand, 'real life' or how the entrepreneurs conducted trade in practice is the starting point of the project. The main goal is to challenge the ideal-type narrative for the Low Countries and to draw lessons about the interplay between legal contexts and economic practices. In this respect, Antwerp proves to be an excellent case study because the bylaw ledgers (Consuetudines impressae and Consuetudines compilatae) contain many clauses related to commercial practices (the law) and because of the large number of notarial ledgers that have been preserved in the city archives (the practices). By studying these bylaws and notarized private partnership agreements, this project strives to broaden our knowledge about early modern corporate structures in early modern Antwerp, while at the same time aiming to establish the extent to which entrepreneurs complied with statutory legislation. In sum, we expect to be able to paint a dynamic and diverse picture of early modern Antwerp, in which many different contracts and private partnerships existed.

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Project type(s)

  • Research Project

Back to the Future: future expectations in the Low Countries, 1400-1600. 01/10/2017 - 30/09/2021

Abstract

Back to the Future investigates future expectations in the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Low Countries. The analysis of the semantics and the contents of written future statements will verify whether the future began to be perceived as open and uncertain, and if an assumed transition to modernity caused by the rise of capitalism and changes in beliefs took place. This project goes beyond the current research which focused on: 1) the revolutionary eighteenth century; 2) the learned texts written by the intelligentsia; 3) singular accounts of the future: divination, magic and the eschatological end of times, without looking into their interplay with other types of future expectations (for example, more short term or secular expectations). This project draws on a large source collection of merchant correspondence. These letters will be digitized, future statements will be selected and entered into a database which will include variables about the semantics and future horizons of these expressions, the identities of the authors, and the actions motivated by the future expectation. The project has three key outcomes: 1) a fuller understanding of people's perception of the future and how they framed it; 2) it can be (dis)proven whether a shift in thoughts and beliefs about the future did occur and whether this is in line with narratives of modernity and the rise of capitalism; 3) a new methodology based on the integration of economic, social and cultural history and historical sociolinguistics.

Researcher(s)

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Project type(s)

  • Research Project

Lord, give me the first prize! Fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Low Countries lottery poems as the voice of the people. 01/04/2017 - 31/03/2018

Abstract

In this project the applicant together with a group of students (in history, with sufficient paleographic skills) will transcribe thousands of so-called lottery poems – poems which were read out loud during the draw of the lottery and which were intended to identify those who acquired lottery tickets – from the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Low Countries and enter those poems into a database and tag them with a number of other data fields. This project is the first systematic analysis of this genre. It is especially relevant since the poems can inform us on societal issues and were constructed by "ordinary" (and not the usual elite) men and women, including those who could not read or write themselves. Eventually this research project will produce a large and full-text searchable corpus of sources which can be used by others for historical and literary research.

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  • Research Project

The ways to Success. Strategies and Trajectories of the Commercial elites in the Low Countries in the Long Sixteenth Century. 01/10/2016 - 30/09/2017

Abstract

Historians have long believed that the ultimate goal for well-to-do bourgeois elites in the sixteenth century was to obtain a noble title. According to the theory, they eventually became concerned about preserving their social status and started investing in ways to become noble, like the formation of landed estates or assimilation with the Second Estate. Recently the debate about this 'treason of the bourgeoisie' has been reopened and the theory has received criticism, especially in the Low Countries. Historians have shown that the markers associated with this trajectory can be interpreted in other ways, but it still seems that the whole literature about social ascent is dominated by the 'success' of a few families that did follow the treason-trajectory. Consequently, the circular reasoning of the theory has never been revised: the "success" stories are viewed as the ideal for all the commercial elites. It is just as likely however, that social success in the Low Countries was achieved in other ways by following other strategies. This has never been thoroughly and empirically tested, however. The goal of this project is to identify the ways in which mercantile elites in the Low Countries followed trajectories towards social success or failure, without using the treason theory as an ideal-type. By studying a representative group of commercial elites, this project aims to give a better understanding of these trajectories towards social success or failure.

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  • Research Project

Perceiving the economic future in the past: analysis of European mercantile correspondence, 1400-1800 01/02/2015 - 31/12/2015

Abstract

This project will analyze perceptions and expectations of the future formulated in published and OCR-scanned letters of European merchants in the period 1400 to 1800. The research seeks insight in long-run developments and changes in thinking about the future by historical actors. In this sense, the project wants to add a new, cultural factor to the history of the development of capitalism: the temporal order of capitalism.

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  • Research Project

The Lure of Lady Luck: lotteries and economic culture in the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Low Countries. 01/10/2013 - 30/09/2016

Abstract

This project analyzes lotteries to determine the boundaries between investing and gambling in the pre-industrial Low Countries. The project will reveal perceptions of and attitudes towards risk in conditions of economic uncertainty and considers the economic culture of the late middle ages and the early modern period.

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  • Research Project

Measuring the long-distance trade of the Low Countries: processing the mid-sixteenth-century tax registers into a relational database 01/02/2013 - 31/12/2013

Abstract

In this project a series of mid-sixteenth-century ledgers concerning the import and export to and from the Low Countries will be digitalized and entered into a relational database, which will be accessible online through the research center website of the applicant. The data allow a detailed analysis of international trade in the region during a phase of economic growth. The volumes of certain commodities (for example, textiles), the relative role of certain merchant groups (natives and foreign merchants) and that of commercial centers will be calculated. Hence, we can compose commercial profiles, both for the commercial centers and for the groups of merchants, a step beyond the current research which relies heavily on total numbers for this trade (and not the more detailed ones which await analysis in the archives). The data-input will be executed by history students during the summer break under the supervision of the applicant. The data will be used in the publication of the applicant's PhD-dissertation; the applicant wants to have his work published by a major US or UK university press. Moreover, the data will lead to one (or several, dependent on the results of the database) separate journal article in one of the top journals in economic history. Belgian and European historians and researchers can access the online database and compare the data with similar sources from other European regions, which will enhance the research on European trade in the early modern era.

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  • Research Project

Relational and institutional trust in the international trade of the Low Countries, 15th-16th centuries. 01/10/2010 - 30/09/2012

Abstract

This research project investigates the role of trust in networks and institutions used by international merchants in Bruges and Antwerp in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Assuming two types of trust, i.e. relational and institutional, this research wants to determine whether trust became (relatively) obsolete when new legal institutions and rules arose that are said to have facilitated commercial transactions between international traders.

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Project type(s)

  • Research Project

Relational and institutional trust in the international trade of the Low Countries, 15th-16th centuries. 01/10/2008 - 30/09/2010

Abstract

This research project investigates the role of trust in networks and institutions used by international merchants in Bruges and Antwerp in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Assuming two types of trust, i.e. relational and institutional, this research wants to determine whether trust became (relatively) obsolete when new legal institutions and rules arose that are said to have facilitated commercial transactions between international traders.

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Project type(s)

  • Research Project

Networks and integration of Spanish and Italian merchants in Antwerp during its Golden Age, 1482-1585. 01/10/2007 - 30/09/2008

Abstract

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  • Research Project