Research team

Centre for Urban History

Expertise

Tim Soens is an expert in Landscape and Environmental history, with specific emphasis on - climate history (Little Ice Age to Anthropocene) - coastal and riverine landscapes - wetland management - urban waters - traditional agriculture - natural disasters, risks and their management - urban food provisioning and the role of urban agriculture and urban commons in urban food supplies - evolution of urban and rural landscapes (using historical GIS) - long-term evolutions of inequalities

Peasants into Stewards. Leasehold and Environmental Stewardship in the Late Medieval Low Countries, 1200-1400. 01/11/2021 - 31/10/2023

Abstract

The human relationship towards nature in the Middle Ages is often framed as basically exploitative, with ecological destruction as a result. Recent research already nuanced this view and pointed at the existence of practices aimed at a responsible exploitation of natural resources, most prominently in forest management and peasant subsistence farming. This research project investigates soil care and sustainable resource management in a more surprising 'field', connecting the modern concept of 'environmental stewardship' to the rise of leasehold between 1200 and 1400. In literature, short-term leasehold is primarily framed as exploitative, enhancing short-term profit seeking and risk-taking. But the introduction of leasehold also induced landowners and tenant farmers to negotiate new arrangements for the management of land 'at a distance', demanding 'good stewardship' from their lessees. Many lease contracts – though not all - contained clauses on the upkeep of natural resources and prohibited actions judged 'damaging' to the soil. Were these more than hollow phrases? When and where did environmental stewardship gain in importance? Was it connected to specific environmental, social or institutional features and triggered by population pressure or catastrophic events? A comprehensive study of lease contracts in the late medieval Low Countries will allow us to rethink both short-term leasehold and antecedents of environmental stewardship in the Late Middle Ages.

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  • Research Project

Mapping Practices under Pressure. The everyday experience of socio-economic change in deindustrialising cities, 1960-2000 (MPP). 01/05/2021 - 30/04/2023

Abstract

The project uses a Geographic Information System (GIS) to map how everyday practices changed in European cities under the pressure of deindustrialization between the 1960s and 1990s. It will substantiate the hypothesis that the processes of social transformation, which have led to phenomena of social and cultural polarization, cannot simply be deducted from socio-economic factors alone, but hinge on the (re-)production of social status, gender and ethnicity in everyday routines. Spatial analysis using GIS offers a suitable tool to reconstruct the relevance of practices in processes of social transformation because everyday routines aggregated around places, nodes and networks, and these localizations in turn become important references in defining social relations. Accessing and analysing information about past practices brings with it methodological challenges which the project addresses by combining oral history interviews with digital mapping techniques. With this, the project will contribute to the ongoing efforts to devise methodologies, which allow to further expand research in the field of digital spatial humanities into the realm of qualitative data and "deep mapping". It will build on the extensive expertise of the HI (University of Antwerp Centre for Urban History) and will be integrated in the HI's initiatives to refine the DARIAH and CLARIN infrastructures in the 'Spatial Humanities'. The project will therefore contribute to the field of contemporary urban history and to the methodological advancement of GIS as a tool of historical research.

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  • Research Project

Advancing the Open Humanities Service Infrastructure (CLARIAH-VL). 01/02/2021 - 31/01/2025

Abstract

CLARIAH-VL constitutes the Flemish contribution to the European DARIAH (Digital Humanities) and CLARIN (Computational Linguistics) research infrastructures (ERICs). Building on the work of these landmark ERICs, CLARIAH-VL will join the efforts of their respective Flemish consortia towards further development and valorisation of high-quality, modular, user-friendly tools, resources, and services by and for humanities researchers. The infrastructure brings together 22 research teams representing a range of disciplines from the universities of Ghent, Antwerp, Leuven and Brussels and the Dutch Language Institute. CLARIAH-VL will continue catering to the highly diverse and multilingual composition of digital humanities data inherent in European long term history, culture, environment and society. To facilitate and (semi-)automate as many aspects of the workflows of humanities researchers as possible, each service component of the infrastructure will need to take full advantage of the most recent advances in the fields of machine learning, linked data and semantic technologies especially with regard to digital text and image analysis.

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  • Research Project

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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  • Research Project

Epidemics and inequalities in Belgium from the plague to COVID-19: what can we learn about societal resilience? 15/12/2020 - 15/03/2025

Abstract

Facemasks might be helpful to overcome COVID-19, blindfolds most certainly are not. And yet, scientists and policy makers working to assess, absorb and overcome the impact of COVID-19 often seem to work blindfolded, as the crisis presently unfolding is presumed to be 'unprecedented'. EPIBEL argues that this is not the case and that there is a lot to be learnt from epidemic history, most notably with regard to inequalities in impact and resilience. As COVID-19 makes clear, epidemics are far from 'universal' shocks: some people are much more likely to suffer in their health and their material wellbeing than others. However, as the pandemic is still unfolding, our understanding of these inequalities is still limited. We do not yet fully understand who suffered and why they suffered. What is more, we ignore how this social bias in impact will eventually affect societal resilience – the way societies are able to absorb the shock and adapt to prevent similar shocks in the future. EPIBEL hence mobilizes the wealth of information on differential vulnerability and resilience following major epidemics in the history of Belgium/the Southern Low Countries, in order to improve our understanding of societal resilience today, in three interacting domains: health, economy and social care. In order to do so, EPIBEL first of all examines the role of socio-demographic and -economic inequalities in COVID-19 mortality. Who died as a result of the pandemic? Besides age and gender, how did place of residence, occupation, education or income shape the risk of dying from COVID-19? Secondly, EPIBEL investigates whether inequalities in COVID-19 mortality differed from previous epidemic outbreaks, both in their short-term impact and in longer-term resilience. Thirdly, EPIBEL aims to understand whether inequalities in the economic impact of epidemic outbreaks mirrored pre-existing socio-economic inequalities, how they interacted with health inequalities, and how they compromised societal resilience. Fourthly, EPIBEL investigates how the scale and organisation of social care and welfare systems might mitigate the effects of an epidemic outbreak on the poor and foster their resilience; and finally, EPIBEL informs policy-makers on the importance of inequalities when promoting societal resilience. How have 'epidemic policies' in the past affected resilience? Are policies which explicitly take into account inequalities more efficient in promoting resilience than more 'universal' policies?

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  • Research Project

Seas of Risk and Resilience: peasant fishing on the late medieval English coasts as a coping strategy against climate-induced hazards. 01/11/2020 - 31/10/2024

Abstract

All across the globe, coastal communities are facing increased risks because of climate and environmental change. A similar dynamic existed in the later middle ages, when periods of increased climatic instability marked the onset of the Little Ice Age. Both historical and environmental studies have considered the sea merely as a danger, due to storm floods causing destruction along the coastline. The sea could however also provide opportunities, as access to fishing could provide income and sustenance in times of increased uncertainty because of storminess and harvest failures. This project challenges the dominant image of peasants as exceptionally vulnerable by exploring peasant fishing activities as a coping strategy, an aspect that has been overlooked as fishing history focused on the rise of specialisation and scale enlargement. The aim is to analyse if, where and when coastal peasants could combine their farming activities with fishing, and whether this reduced the risk of living on the English coast in times of climate change between the mid-thirteenth and mid-fifteenth century. Through the quantitative as well as qualitative use of the unique manorial source situation in late medieval England, this project can include the previously overlooked fishing practices that could potentially facilitate a resilient society.

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  • Research Project

Digital maps and archives: activating cartographic collections in a digital world (DIGHIMAPS). 01/09/2020 - 31/08/2030

Abstract

For a long time cartographic collections have been cherished as objects of great value and beauty, illustrating the evolving representation of the world, the city or the landscape. Over the past decade, the massive high-resolution digitization of historical maps, for instance in Belgium through the Cartesius-project, enabled the general public to explore map collections using easily accessible geographic search engines. Over the next years however, it's time to move one step further: careful georeferencing and vectorization of maps, as well as the (semi-)automatic recognition of their content will allow us to link maps to other types of digital content (other maps but also textual sources and iconography). Nowadays, efforts of geo-spatialization, digitization and data-integration are still costly, time-consuming and fragmented. Several technologies – such as automatic transcription of old handwriting or automatic extraction of graphical forms from historical maps – are still in an experimental stage. However, initiatives like the European Time Machine bid, in which both the Belgian State Archives and the University of Antwerp participate, are aiming for a technological breakthrough creating the 'Big Data of the Past'. With this project, we aim to explore how historical maps can play a crucial role in this process. Building on existing efforts of digitization and geolocalization at the State Archives of Belgium and UAntwerp, DIGHIMAPS unleashes the full potential of digital cartographic collections as key to unlock a new digital universe in which space enables an entirely novel way to organize, search, analyze and visualize archival data and collections. DIGHIMAPS turns the unique cartographic heritage of the Belgian State Archives into the centerpiece of a spatial digital infrastructure, which once fully operational will provide A) a significantly improved knowledge of historical maps; B) Improved geographic search engines, fueled by an 'open' and map-based geohistorical gazetteer; C) a wealth of possible applications in the rapidly emerging fields of spatial history and spatial humanities; D) A 'virtual map room' allowing a highly diversified community of users to perform the searches and map analyses adapted to their individual requirements.

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  • 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.

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  • Research Project

Antwerp Interdisciplinary Platform for Research into Inequality: In search of equality. A socioeconomic examination within a global and historical framework (AIPRIL). 03/07/2019 - 31/12/2025

Abstract

This consortium proposal addresses the diverging fortunes of the rich, the poor and those in between. Our aim is to advance our understanding of how socioeconomic inequalities are changing, what is driving such trends and what, if anything, can be done. An undertaking of such ambition and complexity warrants an approach that combines state-of-the-art research from several disciplines. To that end, the current Methusalem grantee, the Centre for Social Policy Herman Deleeck, is joining forces with the Centre for Urban History and the Institute for Development Studies in the Antwerp Interdisciplinary Platform for Research into Inequality (AIPRIL) to continue and expand its work on the topic of socioeconomic inequality, enlarging the temporal and geographical scope this topic requires. We propose a seven year research program that seeks to make methodological, theoretical, and empirical advances in this rapidly evolving research field, building on insights from economics, sociology, economic history and development studies. The research program contains four strategically selected research streams: 1) New data and tools for the measurement of inequality; 2) Curbing inequality; 3) Urbanisation and Inequality; and 4) Shocks and Inequality.

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  • Research Project

Environmental history of the summits of the southern Vosges (13th - 18th century). 01/02/2022 - 31/07/2022

Abstract

Jean-Baptiste Ortlieb studies the environmental history of some of the higher summits of the "High Vosges" ("Hautes Vosges", Grand Est, France), between the end of the medieval period (13th century) and the revolutionary period (end of the 18th century). Environmental history's new paradigms modify the understanding of certain social phenomena, analyzing the emergence of a 'modern' relationship to nature, including the commodification of natural 'resources' and the appreciation for 'wild', or 'untamed' nature. It does so by employing transdisciplinary methods, combining historical archival research, with soil and archaeological data, and paleo-climatic and -botanical research. Such approach is an opportunity to rewrite the history of an 'old' historical object, the Vosges mountains. We will do so by focusing on the mountain pastures – the 'chaumes' of a well-defined number of Vosges summits, located on both side of the main ridge line separating the two historic regions of Alsace and Lorraine. By going beyond the only regional and local issues, the aim is to highlight the existence of complex relationships between humans and their environment, based on a survey carried out over the "long term". An original corpus is based on the crossing of written and cartographic sources with archaeology and geomorphology data. It makes it possible to concretely query the relationship between societies and summits, between human and "non-human" actors, within a so-called "social agrosystem". For his research in Antwerp, Jean-Baptiste Ortlieb will elaborate the crucial concept of 'social agrosystem', as developed by Erik Thoen and supervisor Tim Soens, and for a first time apply it on a mountainous environment – outside the core of pre-industrial settlement. Elaborating on the concept of social agro-system, with its emphasis on the different social configurations of agricultural production, Jean-Baptiste Ortlieb will incorporate the dynamics of non-human variables (including vegetation and climate), and provide a better understanding of the different models of appropriation and exploitation of the mountain chaumes. Gradually evolving over time, and also with significant contrasts between summits, a series of fundamental reconfigurations of human actors and non-human variables become visible, with 'common pool' models of human exploitation of the 'chaumes' giving away to private concessions, changes in the intensity of exploitation and the commercialization of its products and the rise of new forms of valuation of the natural altitude environments. This results directly in a chapter of the PhD-thesis, which will also be published as stand-alone article. During his stay in Antwerp he will also elaborate his historical GIS of the Vosges region, integrating the results of the archaeological excavation realized in September 2020 and allowing a spatial analysis of landscape and social evolutions. This part of the research will greatly profit from the expertise of the GIStorical Antwerp team. The result is a fundamental reassessment of human-nature interaction in the middle mountains, during a period marked by the emergence of a new relationship between Western societies and nature.

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  • Research Project

Virtual technology for resilient fortification heritage (VIRTUAFORT). 02/06/2021 - 31/07/2022

Abstract

The VirtuaFort project is building a Virtual Reality application that includes Fort Lillo and its immediate surroundings. Hereby, a historically correct 3D-reconstruction of the fort in the 17th century is brought to life by means of immersive technology. At the same time, various storylines will be linked to the fortress, in order to enthuse both inhabitants and local and sustainable tourism about this unique location. The VR application will also make it possible to switch between the past, the present and the future plans for the fortress. The application will be launched publicly in early 2022, after which a possible expansion towards other sites will be investigated.

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  • Research Project

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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  • Research Project

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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  • Research Project

CLARIAH-VL: Open Humanities Service Infrastructure. 01/02/2019 - 31/01/2021

Abstract

CLARIAH-VL: Open Humanities Service Infrastructure is the Flemish contribution to the European DARIAH and CLARIN infrastructures. It brings together and extends the portfolio of services enabling digital scholarship in the Arts and Humanities offered by the DARIAH-VL Virtual Research Environment Service Infrastructure (VRE-SI; Hercules & FWO 2015-2018) with the digital tools and language data that are offered through CLARIN-DLU/Flanders. The consortium which includes the network of Digital Humanities Research Centres at the universities of Antwerp, Brussels, Ghent and Leuven has been extended with the Dutch Language Institute (INT) – the CLARIN-ERIC certified B-Centre for Flanders. CLARIAH-VL will implement a modular research infrastructure embedding high-quality, user-friendly tools and resources into the workflows of humanities researchers in the five focus areas of linguistics; literature; socio-economic history; media studies; ancient history and archaeology. CLARIAH-VL aims to provide sustainable services, while fostering experimental development and innovation. Offering an open infrastructure which facilitates public humanities is a guiding principle for CLARIAH-VL. It will ensure the accessibility and relevance of the humanities to the general public, specific (heritage) community groups and policy makers. It will make it technically possible to share knowledge, including sharing and co-creating knowledge with non-specialist users, such as facilitating citizen science and crowdsourcing projects. Furthermore, by implementing international best practices in FAIR (Findability, Accessibility, Interoperability and Reusability) Research Data Management (RDM), CLARIAH-VL will pave the way to Flemish participation in the European Open Science Cloud.

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  • Research Project

CATCH 2020: Computer-Assisted Transcription of Complex Handwriting. 01/05/2018 - 30/04/2021

Abstract

CATCH 2020 aims to provide a working infrastructure for the computer-assisted transcription of complex handwritten documents. It will do so by building on the existing Transkribus platform for Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR) – which allows us to process handwritten textual documents in a way that is similar to how OCR processes printed textual documents.. Rather than producing flat transcripts of digital facsimile images, however, CATCH 2020 will produce structured texts, providing tools to add textual and linguistic dimensions to the transcription by combining the state of the art of the research field of textual scholarship with the state of the art of the research field of computational linguistics.

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  • Research Project

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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  • Research Project

A golden age for labour? Economic inequality and labour income after the Black Death: Flanders and Tuscany compared (1350-1500). 01/10/2017 - 30/09/2020

Abstract

Did the Black Death result in a golden age for labour? Killing almost one third of the population, the mortality crisis caused a radical change in the relative value of land, capital and labour. Indeed, no other time before Industrialisation would witness such a rapid increase in real wages. Consequently, generations of historians have characterised the period between 1350 and 1500 as a golden age for labour. However, recent literature on pre-modern income formation casts serious doubts on such a straightforward interpretation. The real wage series, on which the theory is based, are hardly representative for real income levels and ever since the 1970's-1980's no new approaches to this problem have been developed. This research project, therefore, introduces a creative solution that will allow us to retrace the impact of the Black Death on income distribution. On the one hand, the narrow focus of the real wage series is replaced with a socially more diversified framework, including the gains of self-employed middle groups. On the other hand, a comparative perspective between Flanders and Tuscany will question the universal effects of the mortality crisis, and instead highlight the role of regional and intraregional economic and institutional divergences. As a result, this research project will lead to a critical rethinking of the longstanding paradigm of a golden age for labour.

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  • Research Project

The impact of "degrowth" and market economies on welfare and sustainability: a historical exploration. 01/10/2017 - 30/09/2018

Abstract

Growth used to be seen as a precondition for welfare and sustainability, but this consensus is criticised by the degrowth movement. Degrowth is defined as a paradigm shift towards nonaccumulation, sharing economies and commons. Degrowth does not refer to slow or absent growth in market economies. The movement claims that non-market economies without accumulation strategies are more capable of sustaining high average income levels and sustainable environments in the long run. This goes against the grain of the dominant paradigm that sees growth as a precondition for welfare and a green economy. I will introduce the degrowth hypothesis into historical research and analyse the long term welfare and sustainability levels of two different types of societies: market economies, where production factors were allocated predominantly through the market, and historical degrowth societies, characterised by non-accumulation, market independence, commons and sharing economies. To establish the connections between degrowth or market economies and levels of welfare and sustainability, this project will investigate and compare four historical societies, two degrowth societies (The Campine and Drenthe) and two pre-modern market economies (Western Zeeland Flanders and Groninger Ommelanden). They will be analysed from a long-term perspective, to test which type of society was able to sustain high levels of welfare and environmental resilience over the long term and under which circumstances

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  • Research Project

Doel, polder village. Its inhabitants and built environment since 1600. 03/07/2017 - 28/06/2021

Abstract

Doel is a rural settlement in the Waasland polder Area north of Antwerp, dating back in its present form to the early 17th century, but with possible continuity of settlement to the 16th century or even the late medieval period. For a long time it was a rather isolated settlement, surrounded by the Scheldt Estuary and flooded polders. Furthermore, uncertainty with regard to its future (given the potential expansion of the Antwerp harbour) impeded or slowed down the rapid landscape and settlement transformation characteristic for the Flemish - and much of the European - countryside since the end of World War II. As such Doel is the ideal case to investigate the long-term interaction between population and the material landscape of the village. Historical evolutions in social topography, the functional synergy between the village centre and the farming society surrounding it; family structures and community life, will be linked to changes in the built environment; the material culture of houses, professional activities and communal infrastructure; building activities etc. Through its integrated approach of the social history of the village centre and the built environment, this PhD-project aims to set a new standard in the study of rural heritage, the results of which might be highly important for future developments in the field of rural heritage research and policy, both in Doel, Flanders and internationally.

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  • Research Project

CORN- Comparative Rural History Network 01/01/2017 - 31/12/2021

Abstract

The CORN Scientific Network aims to set up in-depth scientific collaboration in the field of comparative rural history in Europe. For several decades, Flanders has occupied a key position in studying and coordinating rural history. As in previous CORN-projects, the present project again focuses on the last millennium: the period between the take-off of the European economy in the classic middle ages and today, linking up with current debates and problems. However, whereas previous CORN-networks focused geographically on the North Sea Area, it is now time to expand the CORN comparative collaboration to other parts of Europe. Over the coming years, CORN aims to launch an ambitious new collaborative research project, which is meant to renew European Rural History. For this reason, a 'central' theme has been selected which is currently at the heart of research in both history and other social sciences. The theme that has been chosen is inequality. A historical approach to inequality allows to contextualize inequality and its evolving meaning for different groups and rural regions. Furthermore, it allows to go beyond the level of 'national statistics' on aggregate evolutions of inequality and it allows to reveal and explain the mechanisms which drive inequality. This collaborative project aims to remedy this gap, bringing together the core-specialists of social and economic history of European rural societies. The researchers involved in this network, not only embrace a joint research theme, but also a joint methodology, which can be characterized as 'comparative', 'social' and 'institutional'. During a period of five years, researchers will explore the theme of rural inequalities along nine working groups. Each working group is coordinated by a member of the CORN-steering committee. The UAntwerp team coordinates the theme "Urban Agriculture in European History: a Social Perspective"

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  • Research Project

Questioning water modernity. A GIS-approach to the privatization and resilience of common drinking water systems in 16th- and 19thcentury cities, test-case: Antwerp. 01/10/2016 - 30/09/2019

Abstract

This project has the ambition of developing a bottom-up social and spatial approach to the privatization of urban drinking water in 18th- and 19th-century cities. Such approach would not be possible without a micro-level GIS, enabling us to follow private, public or common access to drinking water, its use and users on the level of the household. For 18th- and 19th-century Antwerp the GIStorical Antwerp project (UA-Hercules) offers such infrastructure. At this stage in its development, GIStorical Antwerp offers spatial information on each plot for 1830- 1880 based on cadastral data, with extension into the 18th century and up to 1900 scheduled for next year. Data gathered in this dissertation can hence be framed and analysed using year to year digital maps of the city, and integrated with available data on house ownership, commerce and industry. Thus, micro-level spatial analysis will form the core methodology, an approach that can - quite literally - open doors, analysing changes in, and blurring boundaries between, private, public and common space.

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  • Research Project

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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  • Research Project

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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  • Research Project

Shock cities. Food Prices and Access to Food in Flemish Cities during the Age of Shocks (1280-1370). 01/01/2016 - 31/12/2019

Abstract

Overcrowded, with their famous textile industries in a slump, and the political climate highly unstable, the Flemish cities around 1280 seemed particularly vulnerable for the many shocks – Famine, War and Plague - which like the Horsemen of the Apocalypse haunted much of Europe in the following century. And yet, the expected 'positive check' of population did not arrive, or at least not as pronounced as one would expect based on Malthusian predictions about the relationship between population growth, food production and crisis. Were Flemish cities able to limit their vulnerability to food shocks? And if so, how did they manage to do so? In this project, the volatility of food prices during 'food shocks' will be used to investigate the capacity of major Flemish cities to overcome problems in food supplies. With every shock prices of basic food stuffs risked to explode, creating uncertainty and panic. For the first time combining the rich price evidence available in the accounts from urban hospitals and other institutions in five major Flemish cities with a very different access to food (Bruges, Douai, Lille, Cambrai and Ghent), we can assess the differential impact of war, harvest failure and plague, and investigate whether food shocks were overcome via specialisation or diversification of agricultural production in the hinterland, via access to long- distance food trade, via coercive or inclusive urban politics, or… not at all.

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  • Research Project

The landscape of ecological infrastructure. A historical-theoretical reflection on technonatural intervention as design strategy. 01/10/2015 - 30/09/2019

Abstract

Recent literature in ecological urbanism shows that design strategies are increasingly combining infrastructural design with ecological interventions to address an imminent ecological crisis within the context of accelerating urbanization. Merging technological function with natural structures, the design of these ecological infrastructures centers on sophisticated data collecting, rather than responding to socio-political demands or taking inspiration from historical precedents. Political ecology, on the other hand, mainly focuses on the socio-political effects of technonatural intervention, or in-/exclusion of social actors in the planning process, while paying limited attention to the design of ecological infrastructure and the inscribed spatial motives. By delving into 'historical precedents', in which ecological infrastructures were conceived as mode of urban design, the research will add a design perspective to political ecology as well as socio-political context to urban design discourse. Recent design culture will be analyzed vis-à-vis historical concepts that dealt with technology and environmental control within a context of uncertainty and rapid change. Besides the innovative methodology linking past, present and future projection in a way that contributes to both history and current urban theory, as well as to design practice, the project has a decidedly interdisciplinary focus. In addition to tying together the disciplines of ecological urbanism and political ecology in a timely bind breaking new ground, on a broader level, the project relates technology, space and society, and with that the domains of urban history, urbanism, planning, engineering, political geography and Science Technology and Society studies (STS) as it traces sociospatial motives inscribed in technonatural projects.

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  • Research Project

The 'horizontal city' in the middle ages. Suburban settlement in the Southern Low Countries (late 15th-16th century). 01/10/2015 - 30/09/2018

Abstract

This project will study suburban areas in the surroundings of three towns in the Southern Low Countries from ca. 1490 to 1585 (Antwerp, Oudenaarde and Bruges). It will examine the resilience of suburban areas, the economic and social organization of suburban societies and it will reveal whether suburban settlement developed a proper social identity.

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  • Research Project

A golden age for labour? Economic inequality and labour income after the Black Death: Flanders and Tuscany compared (1350-1500). 01/10/2015 - 30/09/2017

Abstract

Did the Black Death result in a golden age for labour? Killing almost one third of the population, the mortality crisis caused a radical change in the relative value of land, capital and labour. Indeed, no other time before Industrialisation would witness such a rapid increase in real wages. Consequently, generations of historians have characterised the period between 1350 and 1500 as a golden age for labour. However, recent literature on pre-modern income formation casts serious doubts on such a straightforward interpretation. The real wage series, on which the theory is based, are hardly representative for real income levels and ever since the 1970's-1980's no new approaches to this problem have been developed. This research project, therefore, introduces a creative solution that will allow us to retrace the impact of the Black Death on income distribution. On the one hand, the narrow focus of the real wage series is replaced with a socially more diversified framework, including the gains of self-employed middle groups. On the other hand, a comparative perspective between Flanders and Tuscany will question the universal effects of the mortality crisis, and instead highlight the role of regional and intraregional economic and institutional divergences. As a result, this research project will lead to a critical rethinking of the longstanding paradigm of a golden age for labour.

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  • Research Project

Subordination or solidarity? Poor relief as an instrument of village elites in the 16th-century Southern Low Countries. 01/10/2014 - 20/08/2018

Abstract

In the 16th-century Low Countries, some 20% of all people were exempted from taxes due to poverty. It was a period of increasing prices - even hyperinflation – and wages not keeping up. Contemporaries also noted an increase in the poverty level, causing major reorganisations and reforms. Historians have labelled pre-modern poor relief either as a 'moralising' poor relief, a tool to regulate labour markets, or as an alternative to informal solidarity networks which all but disappeared in increasingly anonymous cities. However, such general explanations do not explain why seemingly very similar poor relief institutions could allow for very divergent practices. Starting from the praxis of rural poor relief in the 16th-century Southern Low Countries, this project argues that it was above all an instrument of village elites. The aim and function of poor relief – but also the tools that were used – varied according to the composition, characteristics and social strategies of the elites controlling it. Poor relief might thus have been labour-regulating in one region and solidarity-enhancing in another, or something in between these two extremes. By focussing on the 16th-century Holy Ghost tables (the major providers of rural poor relief) and the regional and local differences in relief praxis, I will argue that the effects of similar institutions were strongly divergent due to differences in social structures and concomitant elite characteristics.

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Project type(s)

  • Research Project

Questioning water modernity: a GIS-approach to the privatization and resilience of common drinking water systems in 18th- and 19th-century cities, test-case: Antwerp (1750-1900). 01/10/2014 - 30/09/2016

Abstract

This project has the ambition of developing a bottom-up social and spatial approach to the privatization of urban drinking water in 18th- and 19th-century cities. Such approach would not be possible without a micro-level GIS, enabling us to follow private, public or common access to drinking water, its use and users on the level of the household. For 18th- and 19th-century Antwerp the GIStorical Antwerp project (UA-Hercules) offers such infrastructure. At this stage in its development, GIStorical Antwerp offers spatial information on each plot for 1830- 1880 based on cadastral data, with extension into the 18th century and up to 1900 scheduled for next year. Data gathered in this dissertation can hence be framed and analysed using year to year digital maps of the city, and integrated with available data on house ownership, commerce and industry. Thus, micro-level spatial analysis will form the core methodology, an approach that can - quite literally - open doors, analysing changes in, and blurring boundaries between, private, public and common space.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Project type(s)

  • Research Project

'Wo mistus, da Christus'. A micro-perspective on the allocation and recycling of urban waste in the rural economy of early modern Flanders. 01/10/2014 - 30/09/2016

Abstract

This project aims to investigate to what extent the contribution of urban waste and manure could overcome the challenge of fundamental nutrient deficiencies in regions of dense urbanisation and intensive agriculture. In order to reach that goal, the social relations that are at the core of this project, will be confronted with three other strategic factors affecting the manure allocation: transport improvements, institutional change and economic growth

Researcher(s)

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Project type(s)

  • Research Project

Historical study of the street pattern of Doel. 09/01/2014 - 31/10/2014

Abstract

This project represents a formal research agreement between UA and on the other hand the Flemish Public Service. UA provides the Flemish Public Service research results mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions as stipulated in this contract.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Project type(s)

  • Research Project

The 'horizontal city' in the middle ages. Suburban settlement in the Southern Low Countries (late 15th-16th century). 01/10/2013 - 30/09/2015

Abstract

This project will study suburban areas in the surroundings of three towns in the Southern Low Countries from ca. 1490 to 1585 (Antwerp, Oudenaarde and Bruges). It will examine the resilience of suburban areas, the economic and social organization of suburban societies and it will reveal whether suburban settlement developed a proper social identity.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Project type(s)

  • Research Project

Knowledge creation and knowledge circulation in the Austrian Netherlands: the rinderpest epizootic of 1769 - 1785 in the duchy of Brabant and the county of Flanders. 01/10/2013 - 30/09/2015

Abstract

From the 1960s and 1970s onwards, historians have seen science and knowledge as social constructions, inextractably linked to politics and power relations. For the 17th and 18th centuries, this was exemplified by the close link between top-down circulation of new forms of 'scientific' knowledge based on experiment and observation of nature and the articulation of state power in that same period. More recent historiography however substantially reappraised traditions, hands-on skills and trial and error processes of subaltern groups such as artisans and artists. Surprisingly though, the countryside is totally neglected in this debate, despite the importance of experiment, trial and error and the observation of nature in the economic survival of farmers. The rinderpest epizootic of 1769 – 1785 provides an ideal case-study to examine how knowledge was created, imposed and legitimised in a rural context, and the role experiment played in this. To answer these questions, I will investigate two aspects of this epizootic. The first aspect is the formulation of government policy, which was exceptionally intrusive and characterised by the mandatory slaughter of all suspicious animals. The second aspects involves the reception and execution: how did the mass-slaughter theory became hegemonic and how did the state persuade other actors to go along with this policy? Adopting a local, comparative approach, my research will provide the 'missing link' between rural history and the history of science.

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  • Research Project

The town is the countryside. Textile production and towncountry-relations in the Flemish West Country (15th-16th centuries). 01/01/2013 - 31/12/2016

Abstract

In the past decades urban and rural history have increasingly grown apart. Crucial debates about pre-modern social and economic developments, like those about proto-industry, towncountry-relations and other important issues are taking place with often very different conceptual frameworks and analytical tools. This project want to use the case study of the rural industries in the western parts of late medieval Flanders to confront approaches in both disciplines. Fundamental issues about factor markets for capital, labour and products will be analyzed in order to assess how manufacture of expensive and cheaper textiles is allocated in an urbanized region, which is linked to export markets across Europe.

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  • Research Project

The commons backstage: the social agro-system of the late medieval Campine area explored. 01/10/2012 - 30/09/2014

Abstract

The initial goal of this research project was to analyse actors, arguments and outcomes of conflicts regarding common pool regimes and institutions in the late medieval Campine Area, in order to reveal changing uses and expectations of the commons by different stakeholders.

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Project type(s)

  • Research Project

'Wo mistus, da Christus'. A micro-perspective on the allocation and recycling of urban waste in the rural economy of early modern Flanders. 01/10/2012 - 30/09/2014

Abstract

This project aims to investigate to what extent the contribution of urban waste and manure could overcome the challenge of fundamental nutrient deficiencies in regions of dense urbanisation and intensive agriculture. In order to reach that goal, the social relations that are at the core of this project, will be confronted with three other strategic factors affecting the manure allocation: transport improvements, institutional change and economic growth

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Project type(s)

  • Research Project

GIStorical Antwerp: a micro-level data tool for the study of past urban societies, test-case: Antwerp. 02/07/2012 - 31/12/2017

Abstract

This project represents a formal research agreement between UA and on the other hand the Flemish Public Service. UA provides the Flemish Public Service research results mentioned in the title of the project under the conditions as stipulated in this contract.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Project type(s)

  • Research Project

Knowledge creation and knowledge circulation in the Austrian Netherlands: the rinderpest epizootic of 1769 - 1785 in the duchy of Brabant and the county of Flanders. 01/10/2011 - 30/09/2013

Abstract

From the 1960s and 1970s onwards, historians have seen science and knowledge as social constructions, inextractably linked to politics and power relations. For the 17th and 18th centuries, this was exemplified by the close link between top-down circulation of new forms of 'scientific' knowledge based on experiment and observation of nature and the articulation of state power in that same period. More recent historiography however substantially reappraised traditions, hands-on skills and trial and error processes of subaltern groups such as artisans and artists. Surprisingly though, the countryside is totally neglected in this debate, despite the importance of experiment, trial and error and the observation of nature in the economic survival of farmers. The rinderpest epizootic of 1769 – 1785 provides an ideal case-study to examine how knowledge was created, imposed and legitimised in a rural context, and the role experiment played in this. To answer these questions, I will investigate two aspects of this epizootic. The first aspect is the formulation of government policy, which was exceptionally intrusive and characterised by the mandatory slaughter of all suspicious animals. The second aspects involves the reception and execution: how did the mass-slaughter theory became hegemonic and how did the state persuade other actors to go along with this policy? Adopting a local, comparative approach, my research will provide the 'missing link' between rural history and the history of science.

Researcher(s)

Research team(s)

Project type(s)

  • Research Project

Comparative rural history of the North Sea. 01/01/2011 - 31/12/2015

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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  • Research Project

Archaeological exploration across the land-sea boundary in the Doelpolder Noord area (Westerschelde estuary): the impact of sea-level rise on the landscape and human occupation, from the prehistory to medieval times. 01/01/2011 - 31/12/2014

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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  • Research Project

The struggle for the commons in the late medieval Campine area: an unexplored field. 01/10/2010 - 30/09/2012

Abstract

Commons have recently gained importance in historiography, but most studies tend to limit themselves to economical or political transition periods that led to the disappearance of the commons. Tensions and conflicts on the commons however, were not limited to these periods of large-scale transformation. Even where commons continued to be the economic and institutional corner-stone of rural society, as was the case in the Campine area in the north of Brabant throughout the medieval and early modern period, their use and regulation were permanently debated. In this project, actors, arguments and outcomes of these conflicts are analysed, not only to reveal changing uses and expectations on the commons by different stakeholders, but also to reveal changes in the local balance of power within and beyond the village community. Through an investigation of litigation processes on the Campine commons this project questions how control over the vital commons was used by different groups to gain influence in the village society and how these power struggles affected the use and management of the commons. By doing so, it aims to offer an innovative view of the hidden dynamics of the late medieval Campine society and its use and management of the natural environment.

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  • Research Project

Drowned but not deserted. Interactions between social and ecological resilience of estuarine landscapes after flooding. Test-case: the Waasland polders on the west-bank of the river Scheldt (15th-18th centuries) 01/07/2009 - 31/12/2013

Abstract

Estuarine landscapes are very dynamic ecosystems which makes it very difficult to model social and ecological adaptations - resilience - after catastrophic inundations. In this research project the evolution of tidal channels after historical inundations and the human re-occupation of flooded areas in the late medieval and early modern Western Scheldt estuary are used to enhance our knowledge of the long-term interactions between ecological and social resilience.

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  • Research Project

Local elites in a changing society: a comparative study of power in Flemish and Brabantine villages (13th-16th centuries). 01/01/2009 - 31/12/2012

Abstract

The aim of this project is to explain regional divergences in the organisation and dynamics of late medieval village elites by linking them to the equally regionally divergent patterns of rural commercialisation. In order to do so we have to question the basic assumption that an early and intensive commercialisation of agriculture was always paralleled by an equally early concentration of political and economic power in the hands of 'new' village elites, and that, vice versa, in more traditional or economically backward regions, feudal elites and community-based institutions and organisations were able to maintain their grip on rural society.

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  • Research Project

Environmental conflict, rural communities and political centralisation in the Burgundian-Habsburg Low Countries (c.1300-c1570): test-case: the duchy of Brabant. 01/01/2009 - 31/12/2011

Abstract

The environmental impact of late-medieval state formation is questioned through an in-depth analysis of the interventions of local officials of the central state in the organisation and regulation of the environment in Brabantine rural communities (14th-16th centuries). This will allow us to analyse if and how the central government acquired a significant influence in the social distribution of environmental costs and benefits already in the late medieval period, at the expense of traditional environmental knowledge and management systems.

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  • Research Project

The early hydrography of the city of Ghent: an explorative geomorphological and historical study of human intervention in water management in medieval Ghent (1100-1300). 01/01/2009 - 31/12/2010

Abstract

Human modifications to the natural hydrological system have generated the conditions in which one of the most spectacular examples of urban growth in medieval Europe could take place. It is, therefore, remarkable that almost no historical studies about this variable exist for the city of Ghent. The integration of the analysis of the (rare) historical evidence with new geomorphological and geological data, that have become available to research recently, will valorise existing expertise present at the Centre for Urban History (UA) and the Centre for the history of architecture and urban planning (HA).

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  • Research Project

Environment and power. Environment as a source of conflict in the medieval and early modern Low Countries. 01/12/2008 - 30/11/2009

Abstract

The access and use of environmental resources were important sources of conflict in the past as well as today. The project "Environment and Power" tries to identify changing constructions of power in historical conflicts on ecology and environment. More specifically, the PhD-project examines how in a context of increasing political centralisation between the 14th and the 16th centuries, control over the local environment was used by government agents in order to curb autonomy of local community-based institutions on the countryside.

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  • Research Project

The making of the Western Scheldt. A historical analysis of the transformation of the Western Scheldt estuary from peat river to international trade route (ca. 1000 -ca. 1500) 01/01/2008 - 31/12/2009

Abstract

The creation of the Western Scheldt as most important estuary of the river Scheldt during the medieval period (ca. 1000-ca. 15000) is a significant but largely unknown example of large-scale transformation of estuaries caused by men. Using cartographic evidence from the 15th to the 20th century to reconstruct the Western Scheldt in a GIS, this project wants to stimulate the interdisciplinary research on the long-run evolution of estuaries.

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  • Research Project