On June 6th, Anne McCants Professor of History at MIT, Boston and MacVicar Faculty Fellow, will give a lecture at the Rural and Environmental History group
Much has been written about the dismal living conditions of poor immigrants to Amsterdam in the Golden Age, as well as about the material achievements of the mercantile elite. But very little is known about the material standard of living and consumer habits of middling residents, especially how they may have differed between the native born and those who moved to Amsterdam later in life. The household inventory records of the Municipal Orphanage show that citizen immigrants to Amsterdam typically occupied housing with a greater number of rooms, filled with more, and more highly valued possessions, were more likely to run their own shops, and possessed greater total assets than their native peers. Yet despite their wealth advantage, immigrant citizens of Amsterdam did not display an especially strong propensity to adopt the new products of the Dutch East India trade. By contrast, their poorer native-born peers were eager adopters, even if it meant the acquisition of only one item and that in a context of very few other material possessions. Life-long residence in Amsterdam seems to have conferred a kind of social capital on its native-born inhabitants that along with wealth was an important contributor to the adoption of new consumer practices.
Anne McCants is a Margaret MacVicar Faculty Fellow and Professor of History at MIT School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Boston.