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    DSH - Energy in the Early Modern Home. The Material Culture of Heating, Lighting and Cooking

    Thursday, 19 September, 2019 - 12:00 to Friday, 20 September, 2019 - 18:00
    University of Antwerp, Hof van Liere
    Prinsstraat 13, 2000 Antwerpen

    Name(s) of the organizer(s)
    Wouter Ryckbosch Research group: HOST

    Inter-university activity? Universiteit Antwerpen

    Name and affiliation of external member(s) (if applicable): Bruno Blondé, University of Antwerp

    Contact person:

    Wout Saelens
    Email of contact person: wout.saelens@vub.be 

    Content description activity

    A window into the complex relation between energy transitions, consumer behaviour, and material culture, this workshop aims to search for new insights into the role of energy in the early modern home. While energy has certainly not been neglected by economic historians working on the industrial revolution, the effects of energy transitions on households and their material culture remain much less clear. Nevertheless, as enlightened inventors like Benjamin Franklin and Count Rumford were thinking about how to improve domestic comfort through more efficient hearth and stove types, the transition to fossil fuels and the popularisation of new fuel technologies are believed to have drastically impacted the organisation of the household.

    Moreover, changing consumer demand for new ways of heating, lighting and cooking could have been an autonomous force in shaping early modern energy regimes as well. Indeed, from the extensive literature on early modern material culture and the inventions of such concepts as comfort, convenience and cleanliness, one does certainly not get the impression that the domestic lifestyle of the early modern European consumer was oriented towards an energy-saving lifestyle.

    Daniel Roche (1997) has already described how the struggle against cold and darkness shaped the organisation of the early modern domestic interior and how new ways of heating and lighting changed how people looked at the home fire. Yet, the consumption and material culture of energy remains largely unexplored, since in the classic historiography on early modern consumption and material culture energy has mostly been overshadowed by a (semi-)luxury world of goods craving for novelty, fashion and pleasure. According to Sara Pennell (2016), however, the exponential increase in domestic coal use was ‘perhaps the greatest transformation in the consumption practices of British households across the seventeenth century’ (p. 62). As research on the electrification of America since the late nineteenth century has shown, social and cultural changes within the domestic practices related to energy consumption could be powerful determinants of both energy technology and supply (Nye, 1990). Did, for instance, the growing importance of domestic sociability surrounding the drinking of tea and coffee stimulate the increase in portable heating elements such as braziers? And was, more generally, the emergence of an urban lifestyle focused on domesticity and comfort a causal factor in the early modern energy transition to fossil fuels? According to John E. Crowley (2001), the consumer revolution in early modern Britain especially concerned a greater sensibility within the material culture of heating and lighting. Perhaps such a consumerist mentality ultimately triggered the emergence of an (early) modern energy-intensive lifestyle.

    The goal of this workshop is to get a better understanding of the causes and effects of energy transitions in early modern Europe seen from a household perspective. It welcomes papers tackling the relation between energy and material culture from a wide range of approaches: economic, social, cultural (from the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries). It also stimulates comparative research, both chronologically and geographically. Ultimately aiming at publishing an edited volume on energy in the early modern home, this international workshop wishes to welcome several experts in the field.

    Keynote speakers:

    - John E. Crowley (Dalhousie University, Canada)

    - Sara Pennell (University of Greenwich, UK)

    Scientific committee:

    - Bruno Blondé (University of Antwerp, Belgium)

    - Natacha Coquery (Lumière University Lyon 2, France)

    - Greet De Block (University of Antwerp, Belgium)

    - Wouter Ryckbosch (Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium)

    - Jon Stobart (Manchester Metropolitan University, UK)

    - Ilja Van Damme (University of Antwerp, Belgium)


    J.E. Crowley, The Invention of Comfort: Sensibilities and Design in Early Modern Britain and Early America (Baltimore, 2001).

    D.E. Nye, Electrifying America: Social Meanings of a New Technology,1880-1940 (Cambridge, 1990).

    S. Pennell, The Birth of the English Kitchen, 1600-1850 (London, 2016).

    D. Roche, Histoire des choses banales: naissance de la consommation dans les sociétés traditionelles (17e-19e siècles) (Paris, 1997).

    Practical information:

    When: Thu, 19/09/2019 to Fri, 20/09/2019 From 12:00 to 18:00

    Location: University of Antwerp, Hof van Liere - Prinsstraat 13, 2000 Antwerpen

    Maximum number of participants: 30

    Suggested credits for participation: 1 credit for active participation

    !! Attention: Participation in this training will NOT automatically appear in your online PhD portfolio, fill out this form and let it sign by the instructor as proof of participation.