Technology and the Making of Europe

International Workshop: Governing the Rural in Interwar Europe

7 May - 9 May 2014
Location: Soeterbeeck Study Centre in Ravenstein (near Nijmegen, Netherlands).
Organizer: Liesbeth van de Grift

Agricultural history and rural history have long been the exclusive domain of economic and social historians, who have either studied the economic and technological dimensions of rural life, i.e. developments within agriculture and farming, or examined the impact of those changes on social life. Since the mid-1980s, cultural historians, influenced by cultural geographers and literary critics, have begun to study the rise of the ‘rural idyll’, the meanings attributed to rural landscapes and country life and the ways in which such representations were instrumental in fostering national identities.[1]

To historians of modern European politics, however, life on the countryside has been a peripheral area of research. Political historians have long been primarily interested in ideologies and institutional features of political systems, and, as a result, concentrated on the ‘centres’ of politics, often located in the capital cities and within political institutions, such as cabinet and parliament. More recently, political history has moved beyond these typical institutions, increasingly broadening the definition of politics and integrating the emergence of new institutional arrangements, often at the local level, as well as the actual interaction between state and citizens in its analysis. However, as new forms of governance initially arose within large cities from the end of the nineteenth century, social and political reforms in urban spaces have received the lion’s share of scholarly attention. Political change, at first glance, seems to be found in urban areas, whereas the countryside is perceived of as hardly or very slowly changing, lagging behind major developments in more urbanised parts of the country.

The aim of this workshop is to include the modification of administrative practices in rural areas in the analysis of the rise of modern politics and the changing relationship between the state and its citizens. From the end of the nineteenth century, but particularly in the interwar years, the countryside and the position of the rural population were a major political concern and affected the general perception of the role and responsibility of the state towards its citizens. On the one hand, agricultural crises, emigration, and the weak social and economic position of tenant farmers and agricultural labourers spawned a myriad of inquiries into the state of affairs on the countryside as well as proposals for political, social and economic reform on the left and right. On the other hand, the post-war need to secure food production and contested border areas, the perception of ‘population pressure’ as well as the extension of the franchise after the First World War raised the question of the social and political role that should be ascribed to the peasantry and gave rise to top-down settlement and ‘modernisation’ schemes.

This workshop will highlight the political importance that state actors attributed to rural communities in interwar Europe and the policies and reforms that were implemented as a result. The connection between, on the one hand, ideas regarding the social and political role of agricultural communities as well as the role of the state within industrialising and democratising societies and, on the other hand, the administrative and institutional arrangements and innovations that were introduced will be central to this event’s scholarly agenda.

As the economic, political and social necessity for reforming working conditions in agriculture, improving rural living standards and promoting rural developments topped political agendas in all of Europe, and, moreover, emerged as international issues in the interwar years, the organisers aim to bring together students of East Central and Western Europe as well as those historians studying the role of international organisations.

The workshop will be held on 7-9 May 2014 (start Wednesday afternoon, departure on Friday morning). It is funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research. The conference venue will be Soeterbeeck, located in Ravenstein, which is close to the city of Nijmegen. Travel and accommodation costs for participants will be covered by the organisers.

Abstracts (max. 400 words) and a short CV should be submitted by 18 November to the following address: l.vandegrift[at]let.ru.nl

For further inquiries, contact Liesbeth van de Grift at l.vandegrift[at]let.ru.nl

Organisers:

Dr. Liesbeth van de Grift, Radboud University Nijmegen
Dr. Amalia Ribi Forclaz, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies Geneva

[1] Burchardt, Jeremy, ‘Agricultural History, Rural History, or Countryside History?’, The History Journal 50:2 (2007) 465-481. 

Back..