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ESSHC 2018 BELFAST, 4-7 April 2018 (European Social Science History Conference)


Elites and Forerunners (M. Vuorinen); Material and Consumer Culture (J. Stobart)

The European Country House (1880-2000):
New and Old Forms of Sociocultural Distinction and Cultural Consumption

From the World of Architecture, Visual Arts and Gardening to the World of Sports, Hunting and Shooting Parties

Photo: Ledreborg Castle

Recent studies on old and new elites at the top of European societies in the (late) nineteenth and twentieth century show some global trends and parallels. Not only rich aristocrats but also families who made fortunes in high finance or industrial entrepreneurship could afford a so-called landed life style in which monumental houses, with a rich variety of old and new country houses, big villas, beautiful gardens and impressive park landscapes, functioned as representations of power, prestige and wealth. In several, but not all, European countries big landownership showed a certain tenacity. However, especially after the Second World War many of these privately owned houses and landed estates were transformed into public museums, town halls, mental asylums, medical clinics, (resort) hotels, golf courses, business and education institutes or grand offices of diverse public organizations (environmental protection, cultural heritage). Already around 1900 the country house culture of the elites in some European countries transformed from a leisure into a pleasure culture.

However, these processes of revitalizing and inventing old and new forms of distinction and consumption in different European countries and regions were more complex, ambivalent and sometimes even more bizarre, than often loosely sketched in the literature. Not only the elites themselves paid much attention on how to continue their prominent position in society by showing a distinct life style, but the rise of especially mass democracy, culture and mobility had also a great impact on the different chances that these elites had to deal with in different European countries.

This session offers opportunities to present rich case studies, that show more in depth how in different regions in Europe elites were involved into the just mentioned transformations and changes in styles of distinction and consumption. Comparing these case studies could shed more light upon questions such as: which were the crucial differences and resemblances in this respect between elites in Europe? Which contextual conditions were decisive and where in Europe we can find more or less continuity of elites’ life style in time? And where and when do we meet more dramatic periods of fall and rise of the country house culture and/or of its transformation into ‘national’ heritage?


Organizers: Yme Kuiper (University of Groningen) and Jose Miguel Hernandez Barral (Centro Univesitario Villanueva)

Contact: Yme Kuiper: