Amsterdam (1500–1800): Notions of privacy inherent in civic distinctions and their architectural bearings

Early modern Amsterdam was a place of rapid transformation: starting in the 16th century, there was a population boom, transforming Amsterdam into an important European city, known for its religious tolerance, expansion of trade, and accommodation of migrants from various parts of Europe. These circumstances allowed a shift in political power, with rich merchants mostly of Reformed faith replacing the Catholic aristocracy of older times.

Starting from the assumption that in Amsterdam, a diverse set of relationships between individuals and society served as catalysers for innovative practices of privacy, our research team zooms in on particular historical documents that allow us to study such varied local developments as:

  • The productive co-existence and interaction between numerous religious and culturally diverse groups
  • A series of financial inventions: public bank (wisselbank), public trading shares
  • Large scale planning for expansion of the city and accommodation of a constantly growing population
  • Important innovations in architecture and art
  • The emergence of a distinct “bourgeois” culture

For that, our team examines a wide variety of historical documents, such as autobiographies, letters, diaries, architectural drawings, visual art works, buildings, notarial records, police files, legislation and learned treatises.


  • July and September 2018 Research trips to the Amsterdam City Archives.
  • 21-22 March 2019 Seminar: Privacy in the early modern Netherlands, Centre for Privacy Studies, University of Copenhagen
  • 2019 “Amsterdam Interiors: Privacy in Temporary Accommodation” as a thematic focus for the winter term at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts (KADK) Master in Architecture and Design
  • 25 April 2019 Seminar: Privacy in Jewish Life across ages. Institute for Jewish History, Jagiellonian University in Cracow, Poland.
  • 18 November 2019 Seminar: Privacy in Early Modern Dutch Art and Architecture: Interior and Space. University of Copenhagen, Denmark.
  • 31 January 2020 Seminar: Perceptions of Privacy in the Early Modern Netherlands. University of Copenhagen, Denmark and Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
  • 23 October 2020 Lecture by Michaël Green: Notions of Privacy in Egodocumnets of Early Modern Amsterdammers. University College London and Institute for Historical Research, United Kingdom.
  • 17 November 2020 Symposium: Privacy in Early Modern Jewish Life. Centre for Privacy Studies, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.
  • Since August 2021, the Amsterdam team is part of PRIVACY BLACK AND WHITE, a research collaboration between In the Same Sea, CopeNLU, and the Centre for Privacy Studies which examines the role of privacy practices in the development of slavery and racism in the Caribbean-European colonial nexus (c. 1600-1850).
  • December 2021: Privacy and the Private in Early Modern Dutch Contexts, a special issue of TSEG/The Low Countries Journal of Social and Economic History Vol. 18 No. 3 (2021).


Michael Green (former member) Natália da Silva Perez  (former member) and Peter Thule Kristensen