Environmental Humanities Center symposium – Urban past, urban future? Sustainable drinking water in Dutch cities, 1500-190017 mar 2022
Van 13:30 - 16:30uur
Location: Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam
During this interdisciplinary symposium the members of the VU-N.W.O. research project Omgaan met waterschaarste (Coping with drought, 2020-2025) will present some preliminary conclusions of their research.
Drought as a result of human-induced climate change is an urgent challenge worldwide. World Water Day (22 March) inspires us to reflect on making our drinking water practices more sustainable. This symposium deals with the drinking water practices of the Netherlands in the period 1500 – 1850. These pre-modern practices seem more sustainable and flexible than the fossil fuel based piped drinking water systems in use today, that demand more and more valuable groundwater. We want to address two contested ideas. First, in the low-lying Netherlands the groundwater was brackish and in the cities, the water in the canals was heavily polluted by industrial and human waste; thus cities depended on importing fresh water from the countryside and on rain water harvesting systems that stored the water in containers and cisterns. In this symposium we will illustrate examples of rainwater harvesting practices based on historical and archaeological research. We will discuss who had access to this water and what happened in times of drought. The second contested idea is that most people preferred not to drink plain water since it was considered unhealthy, regardless of its origin and quality. Hence, many quenched their thirst with light beer. Yet, to whom did this apply? Did it include women and children? And what about poor people, could they afford alcoholic drinks on a daily basis?
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13:30-13:45 Introduction: Coping with drought – Petra van Dam
13:45-14:30 Households’ strategies of coping with water scarcity: a history of an Amsterdam orphanage 1666-1790 – Milja van Tielhof + Discussion
14:45-15:30 Capturing water in Hoorn, Enkhuizen and Medemblik, an archaeological survey – Bart Levering + Discussion
15:45-16:30 ‘When the well is dry’. The history of well-communities in Deventer, 1500-1850 – Dániel Moerman + Discussion
Dr. Milja van Tielhof – Households’ strategies of coping with water scarcity: a history of an Amsterdam orphanage 1666-1790
At one of the most polluted canals of early modern Amsterdam a large orphanage could be found, housing children of poor families (the Aalmoezeniersweeshuis). While they needed clean water every day for a variety of purposes, good quality water was scarce and sometimes, during crises, even extremely scarce. The presentation will consider the different purposes for which water was used in the orphanage and the sorts of water available. It will also try to identify strategies to cope with seasonal and yearly fluctuations of water availability. Which daily practices and routines ensured flexibility, which measures were taken to tide over periods of drought and frost? Research often focuses on water provisioning systems and industrial uses, while domestic uses and interactions between provisioning and use are less well known. This presentation hopes to enrich urban water history by choosing the novel perspective of a household.
Bart Levering, Ma Sc – Capturing water in Hoorn, Enkhuizen and Medemblik, an archaeological survey
In this presentation the micro-water-infrastructure of the West-Frisian cities Hoorn, Enkhuizen and Medemblik is investigated. Similar research was conducted by the author in 2019, building on an archaeological study about Amsterdam, discussing construction, sizes and water capacity of cisterns (Gawronski and Veerkamp 2007). As a follow up, the functional application and spatial distribution of cisterns in Amsterdam were analysed by the author. Here it is questioned what landscape of micro-water-infrastructure was present in the West-Frisian cities, using data retrieved from the West-Friese Archeologische Rapporten. Which types of micro-water-infrastructure are found in the early-modern cities of Hoorn, Enkhuizen and Medemblik, and what are their functional, social, and technological characteristics?
Dániel Moerman, Ma, PhD – ‘When the well is dry’. The history of well-communities in Deventer, 1500-1850
Droughts are common natural phenomena in cities. They can severely disrupt the availability of water to households and different sectors of the economy. The city of Deventer, located in the east of the Netherlands, relied primarily on groundwater extracted via wells and pumps, which existed both in private and communal forms. This presentation will elaborate on early modern Deventer’s system of communal wells – cared for largely by citizens themselves – and how these coped with the threat of drought-induced water shortages from the 16th to the 19th century. It focuses particularly on the socio-political aspects that governed the development of risk-mitigating strategies to drought over time. It aims to provide a long-term perspective on the social and environmental mechanisms that influenced the resilience of Deventer to drought-induced water shortages.
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