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The Freedom of the Streets. Gender and Urban Space in Europe and Asia (1600-1850)

University of Amsterdam – NWO Vidi project

Project leader: Dr. Daniëlle van den Heuvel

Researcher: Bébio Amaro

Postdocs: Dr. Marie Yasunaga, Dr. Gamze Saygi

PhD candidates: Bob Pierik MA, Antonia Weiss MA

This programme analyses the gendering of urban space in the early modern city. It is widely held that between 1600 and 1850, women gradually withdrew from the public sphere of the street and moved to the private sphere of the home. This powerful narrative, linked to theories of modernisation, has created a conceptual stranglehold that sees public space as exclusively male and private space as entirely female, thereby obscuring the actual workings of gender in pre-industrial urban societies.

This programme offers a pioneering approach to the study of gendered urban space, enabling for the first time to move beyond the public/private dichotomy and analyse women’s access to pre-industrial streets in full. Through an analysis of the ownership of streets, both formally by authorities and informally through daily use, it uncovers how urban space was gendered in the run up to the nineteenth century. It hypothesises that the extent to which women could own the street depended on gender norms, local governance, urban fabric, and the everyday use of streets and squares. As such, this programme uniquely enables a cross-cultural comparison that connects the material and immaterial city, as well as for women’s agency to play a central role in the analysis.

In four closely-related projects, this programme systematically compares the gendering of urban space in pre-modern Asia and Europe. Based on extensive visual and textual sources, Projects 1 and 2 provide in-depth studies of Edo and Amsterdam, two major pre-modern cities with distinct cultures, architecture, and governance. Project 3 digitally visualises gendered movement in these two cities, thereby providing a complementary spatial analysis, as well as an important tool to engage with wider audiences. Project 4 builds on Projects 1-3 and analyses how the access of women to pre-industrial streets was shaped in contrasting European and Asian urban communities.

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