Research Themes - Household Economy



Within this research theme, we investigate how households in a small town could derive security from their material possessions. We do this by looking at asset management and asking questions such as:  did households face legal or sociocultural impediments, which made asset management difficult or even impossible? For instance, could they decide to alienate land, or use this as a collateral, without facing obstruction from family members?


We also investigate the access househlods had to capital markets, both for households looking for a profitable way to invest their savings and for those looking for ways to stretch their budgets by borrowing. Capital market participation was particularly crucial for households of the ‘nuclear family-type’: to deal with difficult times in the life-cycle, such as early adulthood or retirement, and unforseen adversities, such as the loss or disability of a spouse, they required possibilities to save and borrow. Did asset management allow them to cope with risks, or did they require other security arrangements as well?


To answer these questions, the project uses a dataset covering tax assessments of thousands of households in the small town of Edam, between 1462 and 1563. The dataset allows us to investigate general developments over time, but also to follow the asset management of selected households over time.   

The case of Edam and De Zeevang


The late-medieval population within the small town of Edam and four surrounding villages (known as De Zeevang) consisted of c. 6,000 people in 1563. This region experienced migration to booming Amsterdam in the sixteenth century (which means that our project also provides valuable data for genealogists tracing ancestors living in Amsterdam during its Golden Age in the seventeenth century.

Map of current location of the town of Edam

and the area known as De Zeevang

Map created by using Google Maps.


In contrast to most cases, for Edam and De Zeevang, situated to the Northeast of Amsterdam, a unique source has been preserved, that sheds light on the living conditions of thousands of households. Tax declarations are available for seven separate years, spread rather equally between 1462 and 1563. These sources provide us with a detailed impression of landownership, material wealth, occupation, and residence. Moreover, for Edam it is also possible to follow a score of individual households from whitebread weeks, via parenthood, to old age and widowhood. This means that the behaviour of historical households can be interpreted using theories from social science, for instance a life cycle approach. 


The oldest house that has been preserved in Edam, dating

from the sixteenth century, This is one of the houses

probably implicitly mentioned in the

sixteenth-century schotboeken of Edam.

Photo by Jaco Zuijderduijn.


This source of information, together with other contemporary sources, provides researchers with a vast amount of research material, offering a unique insight into the situation of early modern Dutch households. Examples of these sources can be found hereIt is hard to imagine a source that allows us to get any closer to historical actors.

Research Possibilities


Using these unique sources, we focus on research questions such as:

  • how did households respond to new oppotunities?
  • were households able to adjust their strategies, for instance by means of scale-enlargement, specialization, and wage-labour?
  • how did households manage to do away with the existinf socioeconomic constraints, particularly the dependence on the family economy, wghich provided security, lavour supply, and social status?


Our project is aimed first at the academic community. The research data, resulting from this project,  will provide new possibilities to conduct research into social and economic history. It does so by providing insight in the composition of household portfolios, and by allowing scholars to follow developments through time.


Additionally, local genealogists and local historians may also benefit from access to this source and the research data. Generally, it is impossible to trace ancestors any back further than c. 1600, when sources about birth, marriage, and death first become available. Not only does our project allow genealogists to go back further, to the mid-fifteenth century, but it will also allow them to get a much better understanding of the socioeconomic position of ancestors, through data on tax-assessments aterial position, occupation, and residence.

Collection of data


The main data source is formed by the so-called pachtkohieren en schotkohieren, which contain the information described above. At present, we have been able to create a dataset consisting of c. 40 percent of the available data. However, the existing dataset does not yet allow for following households through the whole period, as it currently only consists of the benchmark years 1462, 1514, and 1563. To take the next step, and also digitize the remainder of our source and process the other data drom this sources, requires additional work and funding, also given the the nature and amount of the information as well as the paleographic difficulties of these sources.


Fragment of Schotboek from 1462. It states the possessions of Aeff Wouters; she ows, among other possessions, 3 beds, 6 cows, and 75 percent of her house and warf.


At a later stage, we are planning to broaden our range of information even further by linking the data from the Edam-sources to other archival sources, such as the registers for admission of new citizens in the Municipal Archive of Amsterdam.

Examples of sources


A more extensive introduction to the schot- and  pachtkohieren, as well as some pictures of these sources of Edam is to be found here.


On that page, you will also find examples of some of the other types of sources we will be using in the study of the Edam households, such as:

  • Maps
  • Paintings
  • Sources containing recordings of legal transactions
  • Sources containing records of judicial proceedings (schepenprotocollen)
  • Sources from surrounding towns and cities, refrring to (former) inhabitants of Edam and De Zeevang

Preliminary Results


For an overview of the preliminary results of our research activities, please click here.



> To Introduction to pacht- en schotkohieren Edam



> To general characteristics of this Research Theme