Project of the Month: Intoxicating Spaces

By Alison MacDermott

Posted: 5 January, 2022

HERA is pleased to present the next Project of the Month: Intoxicating Spaces: The Impact of New Intoxicants on Urban Spaces in Europe, 1600–1850.

Intoxicating Spaces is investigating the impact of exotic and ‘new’ intoxicants – cocoa, coffee, opium, sugar, tea, and tobacco – on four European metropoles (Amsterdam, Hamburg, London, and Stockholm) between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries.

Project Name

Intoxicating Spaces: The Impact of New Intoxicants on Urban Spaces in Europe, 1600–1850

Project Team

  • Professor Phil Withington (University of Sheffield, PL)
  • Professor A. (Toine) Pieters (Utrecht University, PI)
  • Professor Dr Dagmar Freist (Carl von Ossietzky University Oldenburg, PI)
  • Professor Leos Müller (Stockholm University, PI)
  • Joanna Norman (The Victoria and Albert Museum)
  • Michael Huisjer (Scheepvaartmuseum)
  • Sanne Houby Nielsen (Nordiska Musee)

Describe your project development to date

The project has had an enjoyable and productive two and a half years. We have published or are soon to publish journal articles on the relationship between intoxicants and the plague in all four cities; on tobacco, coffee and opium in Amsterdam and Stockholm; and on coffeehouses and tea gardens in Hamburg and London. In terms of Knowledge Exchange and Public Engagement we have worked closely with over 80 pupils and teachers from seven local schools (culminating with a virtual conference in January 2021); organised two policy events, four public workshops, an international academic conference, and 15 online seminars; created a soon-to-be-launched online exhibition, conceived as a ‘virtual scrapbook’, which showcases over 1,000 digital exhibits from archives, libraries, and museums; delivered over thirty public and academic talks; and commissioned 31 blogs, 7 by guest authors. We have embarked on four bespoke mapping projects with MA students at our respective universities, including an innovative exploration and visualisation of new intoxicants in the diaries of the seventeenth-century scientist Robert Hooke, and linked up with a number of other HERA projects to develop future initiatives.

How did the pandemic impact on the project and how has the project adapted?

COVID-19 has inevitably had a major impact on the project, although we have turned negatives into positives wherever possible. While much of our work in archives and libraries was either completed or rescheduled in response to the various national lockdowns, we had to tweak our programme of knowledge exchange and public engagement, with positive results. We successfully pivoted events and activities to online formats using the platforms Zoom and Crowdcast, allowing us to reach larger and more diverse audiences than would have been possible with in-person events: highlights include our popular virtual seminar series ‘What’s Your Poison?’ (attended by over 500 auditors), our summer 2021 conference on the global and comparative dimensions of intoxicating spaces (attended by 150 delegates), and our concluding schools conference ‘Fancies from the Folly’, beamed from a virtual early modern coffeehouse and hosted by a team member in character as an eighteenth-century waiter (80+ attendees). The pandemic also opened up exciting new avenues of intellectual inquiry: a major output of the project, unanticipated in the original proposal, will be a comparative article on new intoxicants and the plague in our four case study cities.

Interesting collaborations / partnerships

We have enjoyed productive collaborations with (inter alia) eight local schools; the Poppi Museum in Amsterdam, the V&A Museum in London, the Wellcome Collection in London, the German Maritime Museum in Bremerhaven, and the Nordic Museum in Stockholm; and the Mainline Foundation for drug harm reduction in Amsterdam.

Project Outputs

Blog Post:





Interactive work:


  1. Knutsson & H. Hodacs, ‘When Coffee Was Banned: Strategies of Labour and Leisure Among Stockholm’s Poor Women, 1794–1796 and 1799–1802’, Scandinavian Economic History Review (2021).
  2. Snelders, ‘Normalisation and Ambivalence: Tobacco in the Seventeenth-Century Dutch Republic’, Cultural and Social History (2021).
  3. James & P. Withington, ‘Introduction to Intoxicants and Early Modern European Globalization’, The Historical Journal (2021): 1–11. Project special issue.

Our use of cookies

We use necessary cookies to make our site work. We'd also like to set optional analytics cookies to help us improve it. We won't set these optional cookies unless you enable them. Using this tool will set a cookie on your device to remember your preferences.

For more detailed information about the cookies we use, see our Cookies page

Necessary cookies

Necessary cookies enable core functionality such as security, network management, and accessibility. You may disable these by changing your browser settings, but this may affect how the website functions.

Analytics cookies

We'd like to set Google Analytics cookies to help us to improve our website by collecting and reporting information on how you use it. The cookies collect information in a way that does not directly identify anyone.