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Movable Goods and Immovable Property. Gender, Law and Material Culture in Early Modern Europe (1450‒1850)

19-21 July 2018

9th Conference of the European network “Gender Differences in the History of European Legal Cultures”

Venue: German Historical Institute London

Conveners: Annette Cremer (Gießen), Hannes Ziegler (London)

The history of material culture offers important new ways of studying the significance of gender differences in the history of legal cultures by exploring new relationships between gender, law and material culture. Material and immaterial possessions inform the self-image of individuals and societies, dynasties and families. A threefold scheme of legal distinction differentiates between usufruct (1), possession (2), and property (3). Yet these relationships between individuals and objects are not only relevant to civil law, but correspond to political regimes. While usufruct, possession and property thus correspond to different forms of authority and society, they also have a bearing on gender relations on different levels of society. Usually, these gendered aspects of material culture are the products of traditional proximities between certain areas of activity and related groups of objects. Communities in early modern Europe can thus be said to have a gendered and often legally sanctioned relationship to the material world and the world of objects. This is the theme our conference is aiming to address. Our assumption is that this situation led to social rivalries and gender-informed conflicts between individual members of societies regarding usufruct, possession, and property. The action of taking possession of something is thus more than just a way of achieving material security, but a form of social practice and a way of self-assertion: in order to gain social status, as a way of accumulating social capital or broadening one’s personal or dynastic room for manoeuvre. In this respect, the single most important event is the distribution of goods in generational succession. Despite their chronologically wide applicability, it is our aim to explore these questions with respect to early modern history.

The conference is organised in conjunction with the international network “Gender Differences in Legal Cultures” and is supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG).


Call for papers
(PDF file)