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In the spotlight

Consulting all current and past projects of HOST research group is possible on our page on the VUB research portal. Below, you will only find a spotlighted 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. (More information)


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. (More information)

Consult the website of the Witnesses project.

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. (More information)

Consult the website of the Make-up of the City project.

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. (More information)


Inequality, Migration and Social Relations in Urban Brabant and Flanders, c. 1350-1914

Brussel grote markt

This programme builds upon the expertise of the centre for Historical Research into Urban Transformation Processes (HOST) to carry out an integrated research agenda on the ways in which growing economic inequality interacted with migration patterns and social relations in the late medieval, early modern and 19th-century city. Situated in one of the most urbanised, commercialised and industrialized regions of medieval, early modern and 19th-century Europe, the cities of Flanders and Brabant serve as a particularly useful empirical case, in which variegated and divergent urban trajectories can be contrasted and compared. By developing a comparative and long-term perspective to historical processes that have many similarities to contemporary challenges associated with increasing urbanization, inequality and spatial mobility, the research programme aims to challenge the main presuppositions that currently frame the binary thinking on the interactions between inequality, migration and community, and carries the potential to fundamentally alter the scope of current debates on the topic. (More information)

Tradition and naturalness of animal products within a societal context of change

The interdisciplinary project (IRP) entitled ’Tradition and naturalness of animal products within a societal context of change’ is a thematic continuation of an earlier IRP of the Research Groups of Industrial Microbiology and Food Biotechnology and Social and Cultural Food Studies, entitled ‘Food quality, safety, and trust since 1950: societal controversy and biotechnological challenges’, in turn a follow-up of an earlier HOA project (Horizontale Onderzoeksactie) entitled ’Artisan quality of fermented foods: myth, reality, perceptions, and constructions’. The current project combines the expertise of food technologists (research group IMDO), communication scientists (research group MARK/BUSI) and food historians (research groups FOST and HOST). After looking previously into the technological and historical complexities of food artisanship as well as the related aspects of quality and safety, the proposed research now targets the concepts of “tradition” and “naturalness” of animal products in a dynamic setting of societal change.

The research theme is of utmost importance not only from an academic point of view but also for society. Its societal relevance is reflected by the fact that food functions as the cement of societies, dominating our daily lives not only due to its physiological but also because of its semiotic value. In periods of major societal change, as we are currently experiencing with market globalization and fast-paced technological innovation, it acts as a focal point for identity search and value creation. The proposed IRP will deal with the specific category of animal products, posing several societal challenges (e.g., issues of sustainability and ethical production and processing) and carrying several layers of meaning (e.g., taboos and ceremonial customs). Also, the meat production chain has been subjected to intense transformations during the past three centuries, including heavy industrialization, lengthening and specialization of the production chain, and concealing of the upsetting act of animal killing in slaughterhouses. Finally, the symptomatic concepts of 'tradition', 'origin', and 'naturalness', which will be central to this IRP, are of paramount significance for this food category. (More information)