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In the spotlight

Consulting all the past and current projects in which HOST research group is involved, is possible on our page on the VUB research portal. Below, you will only find a short selection of large-scale projects that are at the core of the HOST research agenda.

Re-building Brussels

The proposed research Re-Building Brussels (1695-2025): the construction sector as an engine for social inclusion and circularity builds upon the ongoing IRP programme (2016-2021) Building Brussels. Brussels City Builders and the Production of Space, 1794-2015 in which research teams Architectural Engineering (AELA), Historical Research into Urban Transformation Processes (HOST) and Cosmopolis – Centre for Urban Research (COSM) joined forces to investigate the viability of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the construction sector in Brussels, an understudied yet essential sector in economic history, and an important one for the foundational economy and the productive city. The first phase of the programme delivered a detailed inventory of the sector from material suppliers over builders to finishers over the past 200 years and yielded important insights on changing networks, infrastructural needs, hotspots, types of workspaces and their integration in urban space. As such, it identified urbanist and planning strategies to safeguard space for production in dense and mixed urban areas today (Degraeve, De Boeck, Van Dyck 2018). In this second programme, we aim to improve our understanding of the long-term dynamics that shaped the relationship between urban construction and its ecological and social impact. This project will therefore examine the ways in which - and the reasons why - material reuse and the labour market have evolved in Brussels since the beginning of modern urban growth in the eighteenth century until today. This research will at the same time tackle contemporary urban challenges of the circular economy and the labour market as a stepping-stone for social mobility, reducing intra-urban inequalities.


Oostkamp, 1846. The merchant Bernardus Dhoore fell victim to several coal thefts. Who had done it, or who had seen or heard something suspicious? Witness depositions were one way to discover the 'truth' and track down the culprit. These sources remain of great importance today, just as they were back then because they reveal an exceptional amount of information about past societies. These narratives of witness experiences reveal the daily reality of a wide range of people, including male and female commoners who often remain hidden for historians. How did contemporaries use public space? What were the norms and values at that time? How were social relations shaped? Did the vernacular change during time? This project Witnesses (Vrije Universiteit Brussel) aims to gather and transcribe 18th and 19th century witness depositions preserved at the various city and state archives in Belgium with the help of volunteers. These transcriptions will enrich our understanding of past crime, language history, past societies, and so much more.

To gather this data, we need your help! Would you like to know more about past crimes and their witnesses, victims and suspects? Or, are you interested in 18th and 19th century language, texts and handwritings? Then, we can definitely use your support. In the near future, we will set up a platform where you can find these sources and can transcribe as much as you like. To be continued.

The Make-up of the City

The VUB Interdisciplinary Research Program (IRP) The Make Up of the City (MOTC) brings together  the VUB’s experts in urban history, archaeology, biogeochemistry and human anatomy to develop the very first platform for the comprehensive, transdisciplinary study of cities in the pre-modern Low Countries. Analysing archaeological contexts with the latest scientific methods, informed by historical questions and cutting-edge medical research, it aims to compensate for the fragmentary nature of written records and revolutionise current understandings of how urban societies functioned and evolved between 1000 and 1800. The program focuses on late medieval Ieper. Despite the city’s status as an industrial giant and one of the largest urban centres of Europe during this period, its make-up remains poorly understood. For five years, a stable isotope expert and a human osteologist will study 1,200 late medieval human skeletons from Ieper’s St Nicholas parish, assisted by experts in history, archaeology, chemistry and medicine. Their work is expected to provide invaluable new insights into the city’s gender and age distribution, the origins of its inhabitants and their migration patterns, as well as their diets, living conditions and life expectancies. These results will be synthesised in a series of collaborative, per-reviewed publications. Drawing on additional funding, the platform’s transdisciplinary approach will later be applied to urban societies in other places and periods in the Low Countries and its results placed in a comparative European context.

Managing Markets

Addressing a fundamental gap in the historiography, this project offers the first large-scale comparative study of the role of institutions in international trade during the later Middle ages and the early modern period. It focuses on the Low Countries, an area which, throughout this period, was heavily commercialised and attracted merchants and goods from all corners of Europe and the then-known world. Two PhD students will compare the organisation of long- distance trade in six principalities and their main trading cities, covering both the fifteenth and the sixteenth centuries and periods of economic ascendancy and decline. The project bridges the divide between present-day Belgium and the Netherlands and between what is known in traditional historiography as the core and the more peripheral regions of the Burgundian and Habsburg Low Countries. It further advances existing scholarship by looking explicitly for collaboration and coordination, rather than opposition, between central governments, urban authorities and others involved in the organisation of trade and by also considering the wider, non- institutional context of market development. The result will be a greatly enhanced understanding of what made international trade tick in one of the most commercially dynamic areas of fifteenth and sixteenth-century Europe.