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

July 19, 2018 - July 21, 2018
German Historical Institute London

17 Bloomsbury Square
London WC1A 2NJ
United Kingdom

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

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

German Historical Institute London, 19-21 July 2018

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

The history of material cultures 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 possession informs 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.

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, we would like to explore these questions with respect to early modern history.

The starting point for our conference is objects and groups of objects, that is to say, mobile and immobile resources, and their relationships with gender, structures of power, estate orders, customs and legal norms. Perspectives from social and legal sciences will thus be combined with approaches from material culture studies. Our basic assumption is that ways and forms of usufruct, possession and property regarding certain objects inform the self-image and the prospects of individuals and families. What changes and dynamics can be observed in relation to the correlations between gender and objects? What differences occur between different forms of societies?

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