Institute of Modern History

Country Houses in Times of Change

Society and its transformations in German regions, 18th to 20th centuries


The project “Country Houses in Times of Change” considers a period of some 200 years and looks at three German regions: Württemberg, the Rhineland and Brandenburg. Here, country houses constitute the starting point for a seminal investigation into the relations between landscape, society and material culture. Micro-oriented, interregional, and putting the agency of people and things into focus, this project combines approaches currently implemented in agrarian and micro histories with country house studies as well as agency-network-theories.

Project team

Principal investigators:

Prof. Dr. Ewald Frie

Dr. Daniel Menning



Anne Sophie Overkamp

Manuela Mann

Christoph Schlemmer


Student assistants:

Julietta Fricke

Christina Schlaich

Lars Stiegemeyer

Leonie Waldert

About the project

Between 1750 and 1950, numerous processes of political transformation took place. Furthermore, economic change and upheaval due to industrialization and the mechanization of agriculture as well a general societal change influenced the deployment in town and country. Within this framework, the project deals with country houses as places in which these kinds of changes were negotiated and consummated – be it because of a different material setting after 1806, the growing conflicts between estate owners and communities after 1900 or due to debates about land reform, restitution and monument conservation after 1945 or rather 1990. The transformation of society is an open-ended process which this project intends to study not in urban centres but with special attention to the countryside.

By “country house” we understand a representative complex of buildings at a distance from an urban setting, embedded into local society and economy, often highly visible and not seldom a space for meeting and negotiation.

The project makes use of a broad range of archival material. This includes not only family and estate archives but also municipal and other public records. By drawing together research areas hitherto unconnected in terms of chronology, language and focal points and by relying on dynamic comparisons and transregional network analysis, we want to tell an unusual story of the transformation of landscape, society, economy and the state.

The project is a third-party funded project and is being financed by the Irene and Sigurd Greven Foundation, Cologne.

The overall project comprises of four sub-projects:

The country house between consumption and patina

Researcher: Anne Sophie Overkamp

What practices were used in decorating country houses around the epochal year 1800 and during the “Age of Revolutions”? This project explores the many different ways in which consumption, convenience, leisure, art, gender, and ascriptions of a public/private character to spaces and materials influenced the self-conception of a house’s inhabitants.

Actors and their sociability within the space of country houses, 1880-1930

Researcher: Christoph Schlemmer

This project focuses on conviviality and conflicts between country house, farm operations, and local community, with a particular emphasis on actors and spaces as well as conditions and aims of interaction. Its objective is to inquire into configurations of actors, spatial practices, and types of sociability between inhabitants of the ‘great house,’ employees, and local parishioners from 1880 to 1930.

Protect, preserve, or tear down? Practices of historicization as a resource in East and West Germany, 1945-1990

Researcher: Manuela Mann

Based on a selection of case studies, this project explores why, from the 1970s onwards, different groups of actors have increasingly campaigned for the preservation of historical castles, palaces, and country houses, some of them extremely decrepit. By addressing this question, I will enquire into processes of negotiation and (re-)interpretation in a diachronic perspective as well as practices of historicization.

The economy of the country house, 1759-1809

Researcher: Daniel Menning