The Jewish Country House
University of Oxford
5-6 March, 2018
Organised by Professor Abigail Green, Professor David Rechter and Dr. Oliver Cox, University of Oxford, and Dr. Juliet Carey, Waddesdon Manor.
This workshop aims to establish the Jewish country house both as a focus for scholarly research and as a site of European memory. By focusing on a hitherto unidentified group of country houses – those that were owned, renewed and sometimes built by Jews – we aim to establish the importance of Jewish country houses like Port Lympne Mansion, Schloss Freienwalde, Villa Kerylos and Castello Sonnino as variations of a pan-European phenomenon deserving serious consideration from an academic and a heritage viewpoint.
The workshop aims to bring scholars working on Jewish country houses, castelli, chateaux, Schlösser and Villas together with curators, museum and heritage professionals working either in ‘Jewish country houses’ themselves or in the area of European Jewish heritage more broadly. The two day workshop will be held at TORCH, University of Oxford, with a visit to Waddesdon Manor [https://waddesdon.org.uk/], the only surviving Rothschild house with its collections and interiors intact.
Jewish country houses have so far escaped systematic study because they do not fit existing paradigms either in modern Jewish history or country house studies. The historiography of European Jewish elites has tended to focus on the grande bourgeoisie in its urban setting and does not consider the role families like the Bischoffsheims, the Bleichröders, the Péreires and the Sonninos assumed through their rural estates, nor the role of Jewish country houses in the self-fashioning of many leading Jewish figures such as Benjamin Disraeli, Ferdinand de Rothschild and Philip Sassoon in the UK, Leopoldo Franchetti in Italy, Walter Rathenau in Germany, and Théodor Reinach in France. Conversely, the literature on country houses, which typically focuses on the landed aristocracy, has paid little or no attention to the existence of country houses and rural estates in Jewish hands, or to the particular challenges this posed in a rural landscape and social context so powerfully shaped by Christianity.
We are seeking proposals for two types of contributions:
(1) Scholarly contributions exploring Jewish country houses in the UK and continental Europe, their architecture, furnishing, collections and social functioning, and their cultural and political role in the self-presentation and perception of European Jewish elites.
(2) Case studies of specific country house museums presented by country house and heritage professionals, which will allow us to consider the Jewish country house as a site of European memory and a significant aspect of European Jewish heritage and material culture. These case studies are designed to illuminate more generally the issues of presentation and display presented by specific Jewish country houses.
Particular questions likely to arise in either or both strands of the programme include:
- What, if anything, was Jewish about these properties besides their owners?
- What can be gained from comparing Jewish country houses with each other, both within and between national contexts?
- Is it possible to identify personal, artistic or political connections between them, both nationally and internationally?
- How do these houses and their rural estates relate to and/or challenge paradigms either of Jewish cosmopolitanism/ exoticism or of landed, aristocratic rootedness?
- What was the relationship between these country houses and their urban counterparts?
- How far, if at all, did these houses figure as ‘Jewish’ in public discussions of their owners, architecture, collections and preservation?
- What particular issues of presentation and display do Jewish country house museums raise for curators and heritage professionals both in general, and perhaps in relation to the ruptures of the Nazi era?
- How can we engage these issues sensitively without generalizing or over-simplifying the many different ways in which the Jewishness of individual estate owners both did and did not find expression in their properties and collections?
We anticipate that the British dimension of this workshop will be disproportionately important both in terms of scholarship and for heritage professionals, partly because of the cultural significance of the country house in Britain, but also because without a National Trust similar properties (and the archival record) have been less well preserved elsewhere, while the depredations of the Nazi era had a devastating effect on Jewish houses and their collections in continental Europe. Given this reality, we would particularly welcome contributions from scholars and heritage professionals related to Jewish country houses in continental Europe that will enable us to make scholarly connections between the Anglo-Jewish country house and its continental counterparts, and to promote ties between heritage professionals working in this area both in the UK and in continental Europe.
Confirmed speakers: Leora Auslander, Todd Endelman, Paolo Pellegrini, Thomas Stammers.
Please submit your proposal with title, abstract of no more than 300 words, and a short bio/CV in one pdf or doc to JCHconference@humanities.ox.ac.uk by Monday 12 June
We are grateful for the funding and resources towards this event provided by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, Brasenose College, the Paul Mellon Centre for British Art, and the University of Oxford John Fell Fund.