Urban history has tended to dwell on the structure and roles of bourgeois elites without giving give full recognition to either the importance of noble elites in the life of cities or the importance of cities in the lives and lifestyles of nobles.
The city as a meeting point between nobles and bourgeois elites, and the influence of their reciprocal relations on their respective lifestyles, is worthy of more detailed study. The aim of this session is simply to get what is clearly a long-term project under way. Where better to start than with living in the city in its most basic sense; that is, with the study of the places and types of residence of urban elites.
The theme of the session:
In the urban context it is necessary to speak of elites in the plural. In both great cities and small towns nobles and bourgeois rubbed shoulders. Internal differences between nobles could be just as marked as within the bourgeoisie. Nobles d’office, d’affaires, de robe or de cloche – all originally from urban backgrounds – long continued to keep their distance from one another and remained distinct from members of the old nobility residing in the same town.
The study of patterns and places of residence will afford new insights into ongoing relations within the urban elite: relations between noble and bourgeois in the first instance but also within different noble and bourgeois milieux respectively. Did not choosing a place of residence suggest a certain willingness to integrate with one’s neighbours? Living in the same district (whether urban or rural) with people of different social backgrounds meant increased contact with them, which may have tended to reduce former differences and possibly lead to a shared social identity? Were some places or periods more conducive than others to the ‘aristocratisation’ of certain bourgeois groups or to the embourgeoisement of various noble categories? This sort of social convergence may have manifested itself in various ways: similar forms of income or sources of wealth, common career preferences, partially shared patterns of sociability, and even the making of marriage alliances.
The first indispensable task, though, is to map the residential patterns of the elites. How great were the differences between various types of cities or towns at different points in their development? It would be of great service to map the situation in different countries and periods with regard to a number of predetermined variables:
How did the number of individuals or families within the urban elite fluctuate over time? Of particular interest here is the number and social status of elite members with more than one residence.
Did dual residence generally follow a common seasonal pattern (winters in town, summers in the country)?
How did the proportion of nobles and bourgeois vary both between types of town and over time?
How did the appeal of different types of town or city (capital cities, commercial or provincial administrative centres, middling and small towns) vary for the nobility?
In each case, what sort of nobilities are we talking about ? Big commercial centres may have given rise to the new noblesse d'affaires and administrative centres to the noblesse de robe. But what type of towns did large noble landowners tend to gravitate towards?
What has been the effect of changes of regime – and in particular the increased centralisation brought about by the French Revolution - on the choice of places of residence? How far did the upheavals consequent upon industrialisation and urbanisation, throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, disrupt the residential patterns of the elites?
What has been the impact of elites on the physical and human landscape of the city? How far has the emergence of new upper-class residential districts transformed the urban fabric?
Call for papers:
Given that the history of relations between noble et bourgeois elites in the urban context has no precise chronological limits, papers may deal with periods from the end of the Middle Ages to the late 20th century. The geographic context may consist of a single town or entire region, or even country. In view of the conference’s stress on comparative history, the organisers particularly request papers dealing either with change over the medium to long-term or examining several localities at the same point in time. Case studies involving the comparison of various layers or groupings within either the nobility or bourgeoisie, or both, are equally welcome. However, the study of a single elite group is not ruled out.
The session will consist of up to ten papers and anyone interested in making a presentation should send a one-page outline to John Dunne (for English-language papers) or Paul Janssens (for French) by 1 October 2003. Accepted papers will consist of a maximum of six pages of text (420 words per page - 20 minutes of speech) and be submitted 30 April 2004.
Dr John Dunne
School of Humanities
Old Royal Naval College
Greenwich - London SE10 9LS
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