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BIRMM Research Seminar with Marjolein Schepers

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As part of the BIRMM research seminar series, we are welcoming Marjolein Schepers to talk about her research. For this first research seminar, Marjolein will be presenting her current work-in-progress on the spatial patterns of city lighting and of locations of accommodation and entry routes for migrants in late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century Leiden. 

Closed Gates and Dark Streets: Spaces of arrival and transit at night in 18th- and 19th Century Leiden 

Every night, the city of Leiden in the Netherlands underwent a transformation upon dawn. City guards closed the gates every night, picking up and dropping of the keys at another location, making it difficult for people to arrive in the city at night. Barges arriving after sundown had to pay a higher entry fee per passenger. And as darkness fell, city officials made their rounds to light the city lamps, with another round to ensure the lights would burn until dusk. Frequented sites like inns and lodging houses moreover had to keep candles or lamps in the window sill, ensuring that they were visible and easily identifiable for travellers and local police alike. Local authorities paid extra attention to spaces of arrival. In times of crisis, like epidemics, several cities in the Low Countries would forbid citizens and inns to host aliens overnight. Many cities held lodging registers to monitor who stayed overnight in cities. Migrant experiences, and the policing of spaces of migration in the city, were different during the day and during the night. This paper contributes to the debates on spaces of arrival in cities and urban mobility infrastructures by analysing their entanglements with the daily rhythm of light and dark. 

Since the spatial turn, migration historians have started to analyse the places in cities that are characterised by migration and mobility, and the infrastructures structuring and guiding these mobilities. However, changes during different seasons, or even daily rhythms of darkness and sunlight, have to yet received less attention, whereas indications exist that notions of visibility, controllability and safety, important for migration regulation, were different during the day than at night. 

The paper departs from the hypothesis that spaces of arrival were particularly regulated at night time and focuses on the notions of safety and danger regarding mobility and the city at night. Focusing on the intersections of the nocturnal rhythm with urban spaces of transit and arrival, the paper analyses spatial patterns of city lighting and of locations of accommodation and entry routes for migrants in late eighteenth and early nineteenth-century Leiden. Combining spatial, infrastructural, temporal and social approaches to the city at night provides more insights into the social fabric of the city and the nature of and attitudes towards spaces of arrival and transit.

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leiden city mapDetail of a map made by Marjolein Schepers of the city of Leiden with geovisualisation of locations of inns, lodging houses, night watch and the street lights pattern around 1800 (work in progress). Archival data from Erfgoed Leiden en Omstreken, patent registers made available by the Pubscape project and cadastral data and base GIS map from Historisch Leiden in Kaart.