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Processes of Social Decline among the European Nobility

Processus de déclin social de la noblesse européenne

Soziale Abstiegsprozesse im europäischen Adel

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Published on Tuesday, February 18, 2014 by Luigia Parlati


Le projet D03 « La noblesse pauvre 1700-1900 » du Centre de recherche concertée « Ordres menacés » (SFB 923 « Bedrohte Ordnungen ») de l'université de Tübingen organise les 18 et 19 septembre 2014 un colloque international sur le thème « Processus de déclin social de la noblesse européenne ». On se concentrera sur la petite noblesse dans la période allant du XVIIe siècle  au début de la première guerre mondiale. L'objectif du colloque est de rassembler les résultats de recherches historiques sur la noblesse de différents pays européens, axées sur la pauvreté et le déclin social, afin d'établir un lien fructueux entre la recherche sur la pauvreté et sur la noblesse. En outre, il encouragera le dialogue et la mise en contact des chercheurs européens sur la noblesse et il les invitera à mutualiser de nouvelles méthodes et approches de recherche dans un esprit d’échange profitable à tous.



Organizers: Prof. Dr. Ewald Frie, Chelion Begass, Jacek Klimek, Johanna Singer, SFB 923 “Bedrohte Ordnungen” (CRC 923 “Threatened Order. Societies under Stress”), University of Tuebingen, Germany

Say the word ‘nobility’ and images of elite status and material prosperity still spring forth in many people’s minds. In that sense nothing has changed. Even those researching aristocratic history – and in Germany the field has seen something of an upswing after 1990 – study the phenomenon of nobility primarily in terms of elite formation and elite transformation. At issue here, in the final analysis, is how the nobility managed, under changing social parameters, to ‘remain on top‘ (Rudolf Braun, 1990).

A number of recent forays into aristocratic history have, however, weakened the hold of this perspective, supplementing it with an image of nobles just barely breaking even, nobles situated at the lower margins. Despite – to be sure – impressive attempts to keep ahead, or simply abreast, of evolving circumstances, many nobles found themselves socially downgraded, forced to pick and scrape in what had become a downward-trending life style. In short, we have the phenomenon of noble downward mobility. Closer inquiry into processes of decline within the nobility is now something of a desiderandum. Such a reversal of perspective promises rich pickings – one is an improved understanding of nobility in its full scope and diversity, yielding a more adequate image of this social group. Another is a novel insight into societies where these processes of decline have occurred. Opening up research to the phenomenon of noble decline can potentially yield results bearing on the social role of the nobility and, more generally, on the structuration and stability of wider society.

Accordingly, Project D03 (“Impoverished Nobles between Competing Social Orders, 1700-1900“), one of a number of ongoing projects of Sonderforschungsbereich 923 “Bedrohte Ordnungen“ (Collaborative Research Centre 923 “Threatened Order. Societies under Stress“) has decided to convene an international conference on this very issue. Titled “Processes of Social Decline among the European Nobility”, the conference will be held over two days (September 18-19, 2014). Its mandate is ambitious: to examine the lesser nobility on a timescale ranging from the 17th century to the outbreak of World War I.  One precise aim will be to summarize what research into noble history – under the aspects of poverty and social decline/downward mobility – has taught us to date, drawing on the results for various European countries. This will build useful bridges between poverty research and aristocratic research. A further aim is to stimulate dialog and networking between workers in the field, bundling new research leads and methods in a promising way from a European perspective.

Main themes

Given this ambitious mandate – isolating common ground as well as differences in processes of noble decline in cross-European comparison – we, the congress organizers, wish now to issue a Call for Papers. In particular, we welcome papers on the following thematic complexes:

1. Nobility and decline

First on our list is the phenomenon of noble decline per se, in its various forms and manifestations – both as an individual phenomenon and as a structural problem affecting certain noble groups. Here are some of the issues up for clarification: What groups of nobles were affected? What were the causes of their decline? On what scale was this decline manifested? What countermeasures were taken? And what were the chances for a turnaround? These issues may, if contributors wish, be approached from a specific angle. Some possible angles: generational, gender-specific, cyclical (as in life cycle).

2. Noble decline and society

Here the focus is to be on processes of noble decline in specific social contexts. We would like to have answers to the following questions: How did noble decline play out in terms of 1) the self-perception of both the individually affected nobles and the group as a whole; and 2) how was the nobility seen from the outside, say by bourgeois circles? How was noble social decline interpreted, and to what extent did this jeopardize ‘noble honor’? Another focus for inquiry will be that of a social role and relevance for nobility in the wake of processes of noble decline. Some relevant questions in this regard: Were the decline processes unfolding in particular societies ‘system-immanent,’ as it were, or are they better seen as ‘problematic,’ appearing as irruptions and with a dynamic potentially destabilizing for society as a whole? Was the claim to power staked by nobles as a group undermined by such processes? Especially interesting here would be attempts to isolate factors that, in different spatial and temporal contexts, caused processes of noble social decline to be manifested in socially specific ways.

Ideally, each paper should start by reviewing where the research currently stands – or is trending – in respect of nobility-related issues in a particular country, i.e. on a national level. With this general review behind it, the paper may then proceed to a concrete examination of whatever aspect(s) of noble decline the author wishes to elucidate.

Submission guidelines

The conference languages are German, English, or French. Please send in your exposé (max. 700 words) along with a brief CV.

The deadline is March 15, 2014. 

Exposés should be forwarded to this email address: adel@sfb923.uni-tuebingen.de. Please use the same address for any inquiries.

Applicants will be notified by no later than April 15, 2014 if their proposal has been accepted or not. Successful applicants are requested to submit their papers, along with an abstract, by no later than July 31, 2014. Papers should be sent as an email attachment to the conference organizers at (adel@sfb923.uni-tuebingen.de). The time limit for reading each paper will be 30 minutes. Please make every effort to keep within this time frame. Abstracts will be forwarded in advance to all participants. Selected papers are to be subsequently published. Travel expenses will be reimbursed, subject to an application to this effect.

Chelion Begass, Jacek Klimek, Johanna Singer

University of Tuebingen

SFB 923 „Bedrohte Ordnungen“/CRC 923 “Threatened Order. Societies under Stress“

Project D03 “Impoverished Nobles between Competing Social Orders, 1700-1900”

Keplerstr. 2

D-72074 Tuebingen, Germany



  • Université de Tübingen, Neue Aula, HS 4 - Geschwister-Scholl-Platz
    Tübingen, Federal Republic of Germany (72074)


  • Saturday, March 15, 2014


  • déclin social, noblesse


  • Begass Chelion
    courriel : adel [at] sfb923 [dot] uni-tuebingen [dot] de
  • Singer Johanna
    courriel : adel [at] sfb923 [dot] uni-tuebingen [dot] de
  • Klimek Jacek
    courriel : adel [at] sfb923 [dot] uni-tuebingen [dot] de

Information source

  • Begass Chelion
    courriel : adel [at] sfb923 [dot] uni-tuebingen [dot] de

To cite this announcement

« Processes of Social Decline among the European Nobility », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Tuesday, February 18, 2014, https://calenda.org/276189

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