Doing House and Family. Material Culture, Social Space, and Knowledge in Transition (1700–1850)

SNF-Sinergia Project 2015-2017

Prof. Dr. Joachim Eibach (Bern; Responsible), Prof. Dr. Claudia Opitz-Belakhal (Basel), Prof. Dr. Sandro Guzzi-Heeb (Lausanne), Prof. Dr. Jon Mathieu (Luzern)

In the international scientific community, the history of household and family has become a widely acknowledged field of research. However, under the influence of the ongoing ’cultural turn’ and the new interest in ‘space’ in the social sciences, the socio-cultural micro-space of the house and domestic relations in a wider sense need to be revisited with fresh perspectives. Hence, the objective of the proposed sinergia-project is to rethink and reshape the categories of ‘house’ and ‘family’ which are commonly used in a successive order for traditional and modern societies in Europe.

Accordingly, well-known concepts and topoi – if not myths – such as the clear-cut dichotomy of public vs. private, the emergence of separate spheres of men and women and the transformation from an early modern open, socially heterogeneous ‘household-family’ to a modern closed, homogeneous ‘nuclear family’ will be revised in the light of new evidence and with new historical approaches, namely: material culture, social space, knowledge, as well as communication and  motion.

The main focus of the entire project lies on continuities and changes in gendered domestic practices in the period of transition ca. 1700–1850 (‘Sattelzeit’, R. Koselleck) with the emphasis on Switzerland. To come up with an appropriate understanding of the socio-cultural micro-space of house and family, it is not enough to concentrate on the domestic sphere alone. It is essential to consider the interactions between the members of the households and families and their changing social and cultural environments, as has been recently underlined in the concept of ‘the open house’ (J. Eibach).

The related issues will be analysed in three closely connected subprojects: A: Material culture and consumption; B: Social space and conflict; C: Knowledge production and communication. Each subproject will encompass three individual projects. To create a synergetic surplus of applied methods, the proposed project will foster a set of classical and new methods, especially quantitative analysis of medium-term developments and qualitative thick description, thus combining the investigation of serial records and ego-documents.

Two dissertations of the overarching project are produced at the University of Lucerne:

- Rural Housing in Switzerland: Material Culture and Domestic Relations (18th and 19th Centuries)

- Local Networks of Knowledge Production: the Scholarly Household of Johann Jakob Scheuchzer (1672–1733)