DFG project: Consumer revolution and changes in household consumption in probate inventories in Northwestern Germany (16.-19. c.)

The project, which is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) since January 2020, examines the extent to which the thesis of an early modern consumption revolution applies to the Northwestern German hinterland. In this context, the term "consumption revolution" means the reorientation of needs in early modern households from a primarily subsistence-oriented household economy to an economic behaviour oriented towards market products. It is based on the analysis of probate inventories and the material culture of early modern households reflected in them. The project aims to investigate several contrasting communities from the Westphalian Münsterland region, which differ with regard to varying commercial penetration, socio-economic setting and distance to urban centres and to the Netherlands.

  • Consumer Revolution in Northwestern Germany?

    The project, which is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) since January 2020, examines the extent to which the thesis of an early modern consumption revolution applies to the Northwestern German hinterland. In this context, the term "consumption revolution" means the reorientation of needs in early modern households from a primarily subsistence-oriented household economy to an economic behaviour oriented towards market products. It is based on the analysis of probate inventories and the material culture of early modern households reflected in them. The project aims to investigate several contrasting communities from the Westphalian Münsterland region, which differ with regard to varying commercial penetration, socio-economic setting and distance to urban centres and to the Netherlands.

  • The project

    Based on the change in the material culture of rural households for the period from about 1550 to 1808, the project examines the extent to which the thesis of a pre-modern consumer revolution can be verified for the Northwestern German hinterland. It goes beyond previous studies on Germany, which have focused largely on urban areas, and thus have only taken a small minority of the population into consideration. The thesis of the consumer revolution can be examined from perspectives of economic history, social history and cultural history. The project aims primarily at a quantitative social history oriented on economic-historical topics, which takes significant elements of a changing material culture into account and examines them for consistent references of a possible consumer revolution. In addition, a contribution to the change of consumer culture is made by looking at practices of satisfaction of needs and consumption differentiated according to social contexts and life courses on the basis of selected case studies. In this way, social practices are contrasted with contemporary normative statements, such as those that can be traced back to restrictions on expenditure, and can be understood as a practical sense of the appropriation of material culture.

  • Sources and research area

    The source basis for the project are probate inventories and additional sources. These probate inventories originated in the context of self-dependence, the predominant form of Eigenbehörigkeit of farmers in Westphalia. Due to the dependence on the landlord, the landlord was entitled to claim up to half of the mobile property of the deceased. In order to calculate this levy, inventories were drawn up, which have been preserved in abundant numbers.
    Criteria for the selection of the study communities were, in addition to a sufficient number of records, the geographical location: the varying distance to the Netherlands as a core country of the early modern consumer revolution and to urban centres; its different socio-economic and denominational contexts, especially with regard to the commercial, proto-industrial penetration of the local economy; and a qualitatively and quantitatively sufficient stock of sources, if possible over the entire period under observation.

  • Contact

    Jun.-Prof. Dr. Christine Fertig (project leader)
    Raum 341
    Domplatz 20-22
    48143 Münster
    Tel.: +49 (251) 83-24380
    christine.fertig@uni-muenster.de

    Henning Bovenkerk (research assistent)
    Raum 331
    Domplatz 20-22
    48143 Münster
    Tel : +49(0)251-83 24803