Press & Communication

+49 (0) 441 798-5446


Institute of History

Project Website "Intoxicating Spaces"


Prof. Dr. Dagmar Freist

+49 441 798-4640

  • Between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries Europe underwent a psychoactive revolution that had a profound and lasting impact on how people experienced, used, perceived, and policed urban public spaces. Image, detail from: Pehr Hilleström, Three Women Telling Fortune in Coffee, 1780s (Stockholms universitets konstsamling, J. A. Berg Collection #158). Reproduced with permission.

How intoxicants have changed Europe

How did tobacco, tea, caffeine, sugar, chocolate and opium transform life in northern Europe's port cities from the 17th century onwards? Historians from the universities of Oldenburg, Sheffield, Utrecht and Stockholm will investigate this impact.

How did tobacco, tea, caffeine, sugar, chocolate and opium transform life in northern Europe's port cities? Under the title "Intoxicating Spaces", historians from the universities of Oldenburg, Sheffield (UK), Utrecht, (NL), and Stockholm (SWE) will investigate the impact intoxicating and stimulating substances imported from overseas from the seventeenth century onwards had on public spaces in the four metropoles of Hamburg, Amsterdam, London and Stockholm.

The research team based in Oldenburg will be led by Prof. Dr. Dagmar Freist. The overarching collaborative European research project will be led by Professor Phil Withington of the University of Sheffield. The researchers in Oldenburg will collaborate closely with the German Maritime Museum Bremerhaven as well as several schools. The project is funded by the research network Humanities in the European Research Area (HERA). Most of the approximately 250,000 euros in funding for the Oldenburg sub-project is being provided by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

The Oldenburg sub-project focuses on the city of Hamburg, which was already one of Europe's major port cities in the early modern period. On the basis of historical documents including customs and taxation records, commodity lists, newspapers and court papers, the scientists will explore to what extent the increasing traffic and consumption of intoxicants led to the creation of new public spaces in the city. "At first, coffee, tea and tobacco were sold in already established grocery shops or public houses and apothecaries," said Freist. But gradually places dedicated to the trading and consumption of these commodities, for example coffee houses, became established, she explained. "We want to find out what other public spaces developed, what the social and political consequences of these new consumption spaces were, and also how the way society dealt with these intoxicants changed over time."

Freist noted that a special feature of this joint European project is the close interaction between research and teaching institutions. The scientists in all four participating countries will be working closely with museums and schools, for example putting together materials from their ongoing research activities for students to develop their own projects, such as films or exhibitions. In Germany, the Cäcilienschule Oldenburg, the Alte Gymnasium Oldenburg and the Gymnasium Neu Wulmstorf will be involved in the project. At the end of the project an international student workshop is to take place in the Netherlands.     

The German Maritime Museum in Bremerhaven is designing an exhibition in collaboration with all the involved parties. The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) and the public health initiative Mainline Foundation Drugs and Health in Amsterdam will also be participating. More information on the project and its results will be available from June 2019 at

The full title of the project is: Intoxicating Spaces: The Impact of New Intoxicants on Public Spaces, Consumption and Sociability in North Western Europe, c. 1600 – c. 1850

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