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Research mission

Cities have been attributed a crucial role in Europe’s history over the past millennium: as engines of specialization, commercialization, industrialization, social differentiation and individualization, as determining factors in processes of state formation, as migration nodes and cradles of new ideas, art forms and social relations, and as hallmarks of modernity.

Notwithstanding a wide acknowledgement of cities’ roles as catalysts of social change, the actual dynamics of change remain elusive, as do the interactions between dynamics of change on the one hand and the observed resilience of the urban fabric on the other hand. European cities’ capacity to harness their own transformative power is indeed a remarkable achievement in global historical perspective, which has manifested itself in an overall resilience of the urban network and the urban condition since Europe’s High Middle Ages.

The question of how the interactions between diverse social groups shaped urban dynamics of change and stability forms the basic point of departure for HOST’s research agenda.

The spatial and temporal setting of HOST’s research agenda is that of the cities of Brabant and Flanders from the late Middle Ages to the long nineteenth century, two core regions of the Southern Low Countries characterized by high levels of urbanization, commercialization and early industrialization, and marked variation in urban structures and profound upswings and downswings in economic development.

Drawing on complementary expertise in the social and economic history of urban Brabant and Flanders, HOST’s central research agenda revolves around the interactions between social inequality, migration and social relations in a long-term and comparative perspective. By adopting a long-term perspective from the fourteenth to the nineteenth centuries, it is possible to dissociate analytically the impact of long-term structural transformations from conjunctural effects when exploring the dynamics of urban change and stability, while the implementation of an internationally comparative perspective allows to establish the generality and typicality of the urban developments studied. On a social scale, the HOST research agenda adopts a broad scope to allow for a focus on the interactions between urban elites, middling groups and the labouring poor.