Privacy, Publicity, and Gender in Amsterdam’s Early Modern Urban Space


  • Bob Pierik University of Amsterdam



Open house, Urban space, gender, publicity, Amsterdam


This article considered the layers of publicity and privacy in urban space in Amsterdam through conflicts from notarial depositions. It explores and describes the everyday culture of transparency and its relative openness, in which the practices of movement within, through, and around the house were mediated by gender, class, and materiality. It considers how despite the relative openness of homes, demarcations were not absent in early modern cities, but followed a different spatial logic than we know today. Through the concept of practices of gatekeeping, privacy and publicity are not considered as absolute opposites, but rather as powers that can be at work in the same place, allowing for a more multi-layered perspective on urban space. Through this lens, this article considers different ways in which women and men of different social status claimed and negotiated publicity and privacy in everyday life, on the doorsteps of their houses, in the alleys were they lived and away from their homes. By turning to snapshots of street life, it shows how these negotiations were influenced by both social-cultural attitudes and the materiality of urban life in the form of doors, raised doorsteps and windows. Finally, it considers how although both publicity and privacy were forces at work in the street and in houses, a more complete form of secrecy and privacy required mobilities of a larger scope, as people moved outside the city or at least to its fringes. Behaviour that one wanted to keep secret would, under most circumstances, have required the necessary mobility to stay secret, and the spatial constellation of privacy was often directed outwards rather than inwards.


Boeke, J. “Gesprek over onze manier van begraven en rouwbetonen.” Vaderlandsche Letteroefeningen, 1846.

Burke, Peter. “A Delicious Satisfaction with the Material World.” London Review of Books, November 12, 1987.

Capp, Bernard. When Gossips Meet: Women Family and Neighbourhood in Modern England. Oxford N.Y.: OUP, 2003.

Cavallo, Sandra. “Space, Privacy and Gender in the Roman Baroque Palace.” Historische Anthropologie 26, no. 3 (December 1, 2018): 287–307.

Cowan, Alexander. “Seeing Is Believing: Urban Gossip and the Balcony in Early Modern Venice.” Gender & History 23, no. 3 (November 1, 2011): 721–38.

Crane, Mary Thomas. “Illicit Privacy and Outdoor Spaces in Early Modern England.” Journal for Early Modern Cultural Studies 9, no. 1 (2009): 4–22.

De Mare, Heidi. “Domesticity in Dispute. A Reconsideration of Sources.” In At Home: An Anthropology of Domestic Space, edited by Irene Cieraad, 13–30. Syracuse University Press, 2006.

Eibach, Joachim. “Das Offene Haus. Kommunikative Praxis Im Sozialen Nahraum Der Europäischen Frühen Neuzeit.” Zeitschrift Für Historische Forschung 38, no. 4 (October 1, 2011): 621–64.

Farge, Arlette. Fragile Lives: Violence, Power and Solidarity in Eighteenth-Century Paris. Translated by Carol Shelton. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1993.

Hardwick, Julie. Sex in an Old Regime City: Young Workers and Intimacy in France, 1660-1789. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2020.

Hell, Maarten. “De Amsterdamse herberg (1450-1800): Geestrijk centrum van het openbare leven.” Proefschrift, Universiteit van Amsterdam, 2017.

Heyl, Christoph. “We Are Not at Home: Protecting Domestic Privacy in Post-Fire Middle-Class London.” The London Journal 27, no. 2 (November 1, 2002): 12–33.

Jütte, Daniel. “Entering a City: On a Lost Early Modern Practice.” Urban History 41, no. 2 (May 2014): 204–27.

———. The Strait Gate: Thresholds and Power in Western History. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015.

Kamp, Jeannette. Crime, Gender and Social Control in Early Modern Frankfurt Am Main. BRILL, 2019.

Laitinen, Riitta. Order, Materiality and Urban Space in the Early Modern Kingdom of Sweden. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2017.

Lesger, Clé. Shopping Spaces and the Urban Landscape in Early Modern Amsterdam, 1550-1850. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2020.

Loughman, John, and John Michael Montias. Public and Private Spaces: Works of Art in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Houses. Zwolle: Waanders, 2000.

Meischke, R., H. J Zantkuijl, P. T. E. E. Rosenberg, and W. Raue. Huizen in Nederland. Amsterdam. Zwolle, Amsterdam: Waanders Uitgevers and Vereniging Hendrick de Keyser, 1995.

Oh, Elisa. “The Gatekeeper within: Early Modern English Architectural Tropes of Female Consent.” Humanities 8, no. 1 (March 2019).

Philippe Ariès. “Introduction.” In A History of Private Life. Passions of the Renaissance., edited by Roger Chartier, translated by Arthur Goldhammer, Vol. 3. Cambridge (Massachusetts) and London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1989.

Phillips, Derek L. Well-Being in Amsterdam’s Golden Age. Amsterdam: Pallas Publications, 2008.

Pierik, Bob. “From Microhistory to Patterns of Urban Mobility. The Rhythm of Gendered Mobility in Eighteenth-Century Amsterdam.” In Daily Lives and Daily Routines in the Long Eighteenth Century, edited by Gudrun Andersson and Jon Stobart, 105–24. Routledge, 2021.

———. “Urban Life on the Move: Gender and Space in Early Modern Amsterdam.” PhD Thesis, Universiteit van Amsterdam, 2022.

Pierik, Bob, and Alexander Geelen. “A Tale of Two Johannas: Gatekeeping, Mobilities, and Marriage in Cochin and Amsterdam.” Early Modern Women: An Interdisciplinary Journal 14, no. 1 (November 8, 2019): 131–40.

Pool, Isaac. De handelsgeest van Isaac Pool: dagboek van een Amsterdammer in de Gouden Eeuw. Edited by Laurence Duquesnoy and Jeroen Salman. Uitgeverij Verloren, 2018.

Price, J. L. “The Dangers of Unscientific History. Schama and the Dutch Seventeenth-Century.” BMGN - Low Countries Historical Review 104, no. 1 (January 1, 1989): 39–42.

Ronnes, Hanneke. Architecture and élite culture in the United Provinces, England and Ireland, 1500-1700. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2006.

Roodenburg, Herman. “Eer en oneer ten tijde van de Republiek: een tussenbalans.” Volkskundig bulletin 22, no. 3 (1996): 129–48.

Rouwhorst, Theo. “Oog voor detail: Stoepen.” Binnenstad, August 2009.

Ruitenbeek, Olga. “‘Hem – de waereld, haar – het huis’? De intrede van het huiselijkheidsideaal onder de Amsterdamse volksvrouwen 1811-1838.” MA Thesis, University of Amsterdam, 2009.

Schama, Simon. The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age. New York: Vintage Books, 1997.

Tussenbroek, G. van. “Functie en indeling van het Amsterdamse woonhuis aan de hand van een aantal zestiende-eeuwse boedelinventarissen.” Bulletin (KNOB) 115 (2016).

Van de Pol, Lotte. Het Amsterdams hoerdom: prostitutie in de zeventiende en achttiende eeuw. Amsterdam: Wereldbibliotheek, 1996.

Van den Heuvel, Danielle. “Gender in the Streets of the Premodern City.” Journal of Urban History 45, no. 4 (2019).

Van den Heuvel, Danielle, Bob Pierik, Bébio Vieira Amaro, and Ivan Kisjes. “Capturing Gendered Mobility and Street Use in the Historical City: A New Methodological Approach.” Cultural and Social History 17, no. 4 (August 7, 2020): 515–36.

Van den Heuvel, Danielle, Bob Pierik, Bébio Vieira Amaro, and Antonia Weiss. “The Freedom of the Streets. Nieuw Onderzoek Naar Gender En Stedelijke Ruimte in Eurazië (1600-1850).” Stadsgeschiedenis 13, no. 2 (2018): 133–45.

Vrints, Antoon. Het Theater van de Straat: Publiek Geweld in Antwerpen Tijdens de Eerste Helft van de Twintigste Eeuw. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2011.

Weiss, Antonia. “A Mobility Regime for the Modernizing City: Class, Gender and Motion in Berlin’s Tiergarten, c. 1742-1830.” Unpublished paper, 2021.

Zantkuijl, H. J. Bouwen in Amsterdam: Het woonhuis in de stad. Amsterdam: Architectura & Natura, 1993.




How to Cite

Pierik, B. (2022). Privacy, Publicity, and Gender in Amsterdam’s Early Modern Urban Space. Privacy Studies Journal, 1, 1–24.



Research Articles