Local communities under pressure


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October 2022


Scientific research

Local communities under pressure

Common lands were traditionally an indispensable element in the economic existence of rural people. Thanks to common user rights to forests, meadows, heaths and other land, many poor people were able to keep their heads above water in difficult times. With the privatization of these lands, this form of exploitation largely disappeared during the 18th and 19th centuries. However, this process was not linear and was accompanied by different trajectories of development in various regions. 

Esther Beeckaert (UGent) examined how the complex system of common lands and rights evolved in the Belgian Ardennes during the period 1750-1850. Her study shows that this ancient system did not exclude social change, contrary to what is often claimed in literature. It changed in interaction with commercialization, increasing inequality and government-imposed privatization. 

The research resulted in a doctorate in history that will be publicly defended on 7 October at Ghent University.


Esther Beeckaert, Rural transformation in the Ardennes: The commons as landscapes of change, 1750-1850. Ghent, PhD Dissertation, 2022,  pp. 1-346.