cover image of Genealogies of Memory 2024:  Gentry, Nobility and Aristocracy: the Post-Feudal Perspectives project

    Genealogies of Memory 2024

    Gentry, Nobility and Aristocracy: the Post-Feudal Perspectives

    The conference will take place in Warsaw at the Faculty of Modern Languages ​​at the University of Warsaw
    (ul. Dobra 55) on 25-27 September 2024 in a hybrid format with possible online participation. 

    The vital and complex role of the landowning elites in the political, economic, and cultural history of Europe has been extensively researched, resulting in a wealth of literature. However, the question of how this role has been remembered since the dissolution of these elites as a social class, and what the implications of this memory and legacy are for contemporary European societies, has only recently been addressed by sociologists, historians, and anthropologists.

    The opening hypothesis of the conference is that post-feudal social structures, which were a consequence of the power dynamics between the landowners and peasants, can be examined through a perspective of the longue durée. The existence of landowners as a class was brought to an end by political decisions and revolutionary movements, or gradually transitioned into social and political systems based on more democratic principles. This led to various legacies from the past, modes of remembrance, and finally, legal and economic circumstances. These diverse trajectories serve as a reminder of the East-West dichotomy in Europe, as in part of Central and Eastern Europe the end of the landowners' domination came with bloodshed and violence, as part of the making of the ‘Bloodlands’. However, our aim is to go beyond this dichotomy and see whether schemes other than East-West can be employed to understand the diversity of the gentry, nobility and aristocracy history in Europe.

    An illustration of this diversity is also the multitude of terms used to describe the phenomena we discuss and its internal stratification. While we use the ahistorical terms "landowners" or the „landowning elites” as the overarching terms for the purpose of this call for papers, we acknowledge that in different regional contexts, more specific categories such as gentry, nobility, and aristocracy are relevant. We also welcome discussion on the terms used in the papers.

    Individual and collective memory of the gentry, nobility and aristocracy, and in a broader sense, of the post-feudal period with all its complexities, will, however, vary depending not only on how the landowners' era concluded, but also on its characteristics in different regions of Central and Eastern Europe. The landowning elites might have shared the same ethnicity and religion as the subordinate classes, or they could have been of different backgrounds, such as in Eastern Galicia, where Poles owned vast swathes of land populated by ethnic Ukrainians. They could have also belonged to the titular nation of the nation-state, as in interwar Poland, or been ethnically connected to another nation, as was the case with the German aristocracy in interwar Czechoslovakia. Its social and political standing, as well as its proportion within the general population, could range from significant, as seen in Hungary, to marginal, as observed in Romania. Moreover, the gentry, nobility and aristocracy could either be the sole elite in the country or blend, compete with, or even give rise to other influential groups, as exemplified by the Polish intelligentsia. Lastly, the current status of the landowning elites and their (former) property varies greatly across Europe: from regions where its status was never formally challenged, such as in Great Britain, to countries where extensive (re)privatization laws were enacted after the collapse of communism, like in the Czech Republic and Lithuania, and to the post-Soviet states of Ukraine and Belarus, where the issue of reprivatization was never politicized and remains largely absent from public discourse.

    With this complex agenda in mind, we want to approach the topic of this conference in a comparative and contextualised perspective. We wish to pose questions about memory of the gentry, nobility and aristocracy as inscribed in the official narrative, vernacular beliefs, cultural practices and art. We will have a close look at the approach to the their material heritage, the role its history and legacy plays in maintaining collective identities on the local and national levels, as well as the complexity of the legal constraints involved. We will be interested in broadening our approach to the dynamics of the social relations between various actors and seeing among them not only the landowning elites and peasantry, but also Jews in their traditional and less conventional roles, city dwellers as a counter-community, rich bourgeoisie as the competing and/or aspiring class, and intelligentsia with its multifaceted role. Thus, we will include the internal and external perspective of various memory actors and keepers. Additionally, our key focus will be the material heritage: objects, buildings and spaces as spheres of interference, contested property battleground and non-sites of difficult memories.
    The proposed papers might address, but not be limited, to the following issues:

    • How did the memory of the landowning elites, their role and status change over the time? What were the dividing lines or the turning points? 

    • What is the group memory dynamics among the descendants of the gentry, nobility and aristocracy themselves, among people with peasant origins, and in local village communities where once the gentry resided?
    • What are the main determinants of this memory – how are violence, power relations and class dependencies remembered?
    • How can the longue durée of the post-feudal social mechanisms and structures be discovered in the cultural memory, values and elements of the identity of different social groups?
    • How are various aspects of the gentry, nobility and aristocracy ethos perceived in contemporary social life, art and culture?
    • Who endeavours to uphold this ethos as the ethos of their own group – in other words, who currently belongs to the group that regards the landowning elites’ legacy as its own?

    • How the ways the post-feudal system was dissolved in different countries influenced the memory of the gentry, nobility and aristocracy?

    • How the categories of guilt, victimhood and historical justice have been employed in the narratives about the end of these groups’ domination on various levels (local, group, national)?
    • How is the violence against the gentry, nobility and aristocracy that accompanied their dissolution as a social strata – physical, political and symbolic – remembered today?
    • In which form, if any, is the past social order reactivated if an estate is bought by a new owner?  How does such new ownership, be it by descendants of a historical landowning family, or by new people,  resonate with the legacy of the past?
    • How did the memory and survival strategies of the gentry, nobility and aristocracy families form and evolve during the communist and post-communist period?

    • What is the status of the material heritage of the gentry, nobility and aristocracy – manors, parks and palaces? To what extent is it considered common heritage – by local communities, by the national community, and by authorities on various levels?

    • What does the memoryscape of such places look like?
    • What are the commemorative practices connected with such spaces?
    • Does the issue of the post-1989 (re)privatisation influence attitudes towards the landowning elites’ material heritage?
    • What is the specificity of memory related to the gentry, nobility and aristocracy in various European countries? Is the East-West division the main important one?

    • Is the memory of the aristocracy different from the memory of the lower nobility, or landowners without noble titles? How does the social and political diversification of the landowning elites in the past influence its memory today?
    • Which historical factors influence the collective and individual memory, as well as memorial practices?
    • Is the overlapping of class, ethnicity and religion in the past decisive for the contemporary memory of the landowning elites and post-feudality?
    • Is there any specific memory of the Jewish landed gentry?
    • Can any parallels be found outside Europe? What is the postcolonial aspect of the landowning elites’ historical presence in these countries?

    We welcome submissions from memory studies, heritage studies, and other related disciplines. The comparative approach will be particularly welcome.

    Organisational information
    The conference will take place in Warsaw on 25-27 September 2024 in a hybrid format with possible online participation.

    The conference language is English. The organisers provide accommodation for the participants. There is no conference fee.

    Project Coordinator

    The coordinator of the 2024 edition of Genealogies of Memory is Dr. Konrad Bielecki.


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    About Genealogies of Memory

    With the “Genealogies of Memory” project we facilitate academic exchange between Central and East European scholars of individual and collective memory, and intend to promote this region’s study of memory among the broader international academic community.

    To read more about the conference click here.

    Academic Council of the conference

    Profile image of Prof. Anna Wylegała Profile image of Prof. Anna Wylegała

    Prof. Anna Wylegała

    Convenor of this year edition

    Anna Wylegała is a sociologist and Associate Professor at the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology, Polish Academy of Sciences. Her work focuses on the individual and collective memory and on the social history of the II World War in Poland and Ukraine. She is an author of “Displaced Memories: Remembering and Forgetting in Post-War Poland and Ukraine” (2019) and “Był dwór, nie ma dworu. Reforma rolna w Polsce” [There was an estate, there is no estate any more. Agricultural reform in Poland] (2021). She also co-edited two other volumes: “The Burden of the Past: History, Memory and Identity in Contemporary Ukraine” (2020), and “No Neighbors’ Lands: Vanishing Others in Postwar Europe” (2023). Currently she is a coordinator of the Polish part of the project "24.02.2022, 5 am: Testimonies from the War", focused on the documenting of the Ukrainian experience of the current war.

    Profile image of Prof. Jan Rydel Profile image of Prof. Jan Rydel

    Prof. Jan Rydel

    Chair of the Academic Council

    Jan Rydel is a historian and his research areas are Central and Eastern Europe and Polish-German relations in the 19th and 20th centuries. He is the author of Politics of History in Federal Republic of Germany: Legacy – Ideas – Practice (2011) and Polish Occupation of North Western Germany, 1945–1948: an Unknown Chapter in Polish- German Relations (2000, German edition 2003). Until 2010 he was a researcher and a professor at Jagiellonian University and is currently a professor at the Pedagogical University of Cracow. Between 2001 and 2005 he headed the Office of Culture, Science and Information at the Polish Embassy in Berlin. Since 2008 he has been Poland’s representative on the board of the Polish-German Foundation for Sciences. He is a voluntary custodian of the Rydlówka Manor Museum of Young Poland in Kraków. He is the Polish representative in the assembly of the Bergen-Belsen and Mauthausen memorial sites. Prof. Rydel is a Member of the ENRS Steering Committee and coordinates the Polish party in the European Network Remembrance and Solidarity (ENRS).

    Profile image of Prof. Constantin Iordachi Profile image of Prof. Constantin Iordachi

    Prof. Constantin Iordachi

    Prof. Dr. habil. Constantin Iordachi is Professor of history at the Central European University, Budapest; editor-in-chief of CEU Review of Books, co-editor-in-chief of the journal East Central-Europe (Leiden: Brill); and consultant editor of Fascism: Comparative Fascist Studies (Leiden: Brill). He has published widely on comparative history in Central Europe, mostly on citizenship, the history of fascism and the Holocaust, and the collectivization of agriculture and has (co-)edited over twenty collective volumes. His most recent publications include: The Fascist Faith of the Legion “Archangel Michael” in Romania, 1927–1941: Martyrdom and National Purification (Routledge, 2023) - Hungarian edition: A fasiszta Vasgárda Romániában, 1927–1941. Karizma, politika, erőszak (Budapest: L'Harmattan, 1st ed. 2017, second ed. 2018); and Liberalism, Constitutional Nationalism, and Minorities: The Making of Romanian Citizenship, c. 1750–1918 (Brill, 2019); “Intermediaries as Change Agents: Translating, Interpreting, and Expanding Socialism,” The Russian Review 1 (2023) 1-14 (with Shaw, Charles); and “’Why We Have Become Revolutionaries and Murderers’: Radicalization, Terrorism, and Fascism in the Ustaša–Croatian Revolutionary Organization,” Terrorism and Political Violence (2022) (with Goran Miljan). Iordachi is also a member of the Academic Committee of the House of European History, Brussels, and a member of the Academia Europaea-The Academic of Europe. In the current academic year, Iordachi is a Senior Fellow at The Vienna Wiesenthal Institute for Holocaust Studies.

    Profile image of Dr Éva Sztáray Kézdy Profile image of Dr Éva Sztáray Kézdy

    Dr Éva Sztáray Kézdy

    Dr Éva Sztáray Kézdy is sociologist and lawyer, University Associate Professor and Head of Institute of Social and Communication Sciences at Károli Gáspár University of the Reformed Church in Hungary. Her main research areas are sociology of elite based on descent, former aristocracy and gentry, sociology of values, sociology of families, active fatherhood, stay-at-home fatherhood, caring masculinity, qualitative social science research methods (interview, focus group, text analysis). The title of doctoral dissertation is: Descendants of Former aristocratic Families in today's Hungary.

    Profile image of Prof. Joanna Wawrzyniak Profile image of Prof. Joanna Wawrzyniak

    Prof. Joanna Wawrzyniak

    Prof. Joanna Wawrzyniak is an associate professor of sociology and the director of the Center for Research on Social Memory at the University of Warsaw. Her current projects relate to the memories of socialism, neoliberal transformation, and deindustrialization in Poland as well as to cultural heritage, decolonization, and memory processes in Eastern Europe, Western Europe, Caucasus and South Asia. Among her most recent publications are a co-edited volume Remembering the Neoliberal Turn: Economic Change and Collective Memory in Eastern Europe after 1989 (forthcoming with Routledge); Regions of Memory: Transnational Formations (Palgrave 2022); and a special issue of Memory Studies journal titled Mnemonic Wars: New Constellations (2022). She was a visiting scholar at the EUI (Florence), EHESS, Sorbonne and CNRS (Paris), Freiburg Institute of Advanced Studies, Imre Kertesz Kolleg (Jena), Herder Institute (Marburg), New School for Social Research (NYC), and most recently at the Newcastle University, Forman Christian College (Lahore), and ‘Educational and Cultural Bridges’ NGO (Yerevan).

    Profile image of Dr Marcin Schirmer Profile image of Dr Marcin Schirmer

    Dr Marcin Schirmer

    Dr Marcin K. Schirmer graduated from the Warsaw University of Life Sciences (majoring in Food Technology) and from the University of Warsaw (majoring in History of Art). He also participated in the Executive MBA program at the Warsaw School of Economics. Dr Schirmer received his PhD degree from the Institute of History, Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw. His academic interests include the architecture of Polish manors and palaces from the XVIII to XX centuries, the history of the Polish nobility and aristocracy, and social and economic changes in Polish society during the XIX and XX centuries. He is the author of several books and articles in numerous magazines. He has also collaborated with the Institute of National Remembrance and several museums in organizing exhibitions devoted to Polish gentry. Since 2016, he has held the position of Chairman of the Polish Landlords Society.

    Profile image of Prof. Marija Wakounig Profile image of Prof. Marija Wakounig

    Prof. Marija Wakounig

    Marija Wakounig graduated in history and historical auxiliary sciences at the University of Vienna (Mag. Phil, MAS), obtained a doctorate in History and the “venia docendi” in the field of East and Southeast European History, also at the University of Vienna. Since 2009, she has been among others Director of the Austrian and Central European Center Vienna, member of the Board of Trustees of the Foundation for Austrian Studies/University of Leiden (since 2012), member of the International Commission for the History of Universities (since 2015), and Scientific Director of the Richard Plaschka-Scholarship. As full professor for East and Southeast European History at the Institute of East European History/University of Vienna and at the Andrássy Gyula University Budapest, she covers a broad range of topics in teaching and in research and leads several projects on various topics. She was a visiting professor at the University of Klagenfurt (2002/2003) and twice at the University of Leiden (2011, 2020). Her research focuses (in terms of the longue durée) on the history of nobility/dynasties, diplomatic history, the history of symbols of power and state symbols, cultures of remembrance, women’s and gender history, history of scholarship and universities.

    Profile image of Dr Simon Donig Profile image of Dr Simon Donig

    Dr Simon Donig

    Dr. Simon Donig holds a doctorate in history from Passau University. He has worked extensively on the history of nobilities from the late 18th to the end of 20th century. While his regional focus is chiefly on Silesia as a shared and contested Polish, German and Czech territory, he applies a strong comparative focus in his research. His monograph "Adel ohne Land – Land ohne Adel? Lebenswelt, Gedächtnis und materielle Kultur des schlesischen Adels nach 1945" [Nobility without territory – territory without nobility? Lifeworld, memory and material culture of the Silesian nobility after 1945] (2019), is a history of both the memory to antebellum Silesia among multiple generations of families from the Silesian nobility and of the afterlife of the remaining noble material culture as well as the memory associated with it in the communist post war society. Also a long-time Digital Historian and a Digital Humanist, he is currently head of the department of Digital Research and Information Infrastructures at the Herder Institute for Historical Research on East Central Europe – Institute of the Leibniz Association.

    Profile image of Prof. Tomasz Zarycki Profile image of Prof. Tomasz Zarycki

    Prof. Tomasz Zarycki

    Tomasz Zarycki, Ph.D., is sociologist and social geographer, professor at the University of Warsaw and deputy director of the Robert Zajonc Institute for Social Studies (ISS UW). His main fields are sociology of knowledge, politics, culture and the historical sociology of elites. His publications include the following books in English: “Ideologies of Eastness in Central and Eastern Europe” (Routledge, 2014), and “The Polish Elite and Language Sciences: A Perspective of Global Historical Sociology” (Palgrave, 2022).


    Profile image of Prof. Radmila Švaříčková Slabáková Profile image of Prof. Radmila Švaříčková Slabáková

    Prof. Radmila Švaříčková Slabáková

    Radmila Svarickova Slabakova is Associate Professor of History at Palacký University Olomouc and a co-chair of the Memory Studies Association Working Group Family Memory and Intergenerational Exchange. Her research interests encompass modern history, oral history, and memory studies. She is the author of two books and numerous articles on Austro-Hungarian nobility in the 19th and 20th centuries (Rodinné strategie šlechty [Family Strategies of Nobility], Argo 2007, and Mýtus šlechty u nás a v nás [The Myth of Nobility in Us and Between Us], NLN 2013). Recently, she has published on family memory and WWII memory and edited Family Memory: Practices, Transmission and Uses in a Global Perspective, Routledge 2021).




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