Managing the Land: Agricultural and Rural Actors in Twentieth Century Europe

Managing the Land: Agricultural and Rural Actors in Twentieth Century Europe

Corinna Unger, EUI Florence; Dietmar Müller, GWZO Leipzig; Liesbeth van de Grift, Universiteit Utrecht
European University Institute
From - Until
11.04.2019 - 12.04.2019
Unger, Corinna

Agriculture and rural life, topics long dismissed by many historians as irrelevant or old-fashioned, are currently receiving renewed attention in the field of contemporary history. The revival of rural and agricultural history is closely connected to concerns about environmental degradation, food shortages, land grabbing, and migration in the context of climate change, and to academic debates about the so-called Anthropocene, natural resources, and the notion of sustainability. In Europe, many historians are studying issues like land rights, property relations, access to natural resources, and rural infrastructure projects in different parts of Europe and in European colonies abroad. Others focus on social relations and practices in rural spaces, on rural political structures, on ethnopolitically motivated settlements, on efforts toward the ‘modernization’ of agriculture, and on the connections between local, regional, national, and international production, marketing, and governance structures. Together, the various research projects promise to provide a counterweight to existing understandings of contemporary European history as predominantly urban and industrial in character.

As part of larger publication project, we are organizing a workshop to bring together scholars interested in exploring new perspectives and approaches in these fields. The aim of the workshop is twofold: First, to compose a list of topics which, together, constitute a contemporary European history from a rural perspective; and, second, to explore potential contributions and contributors to such a publication.

Rather than looking at twentieth-century European rural and agricultural history through the lens of nation states or specific events, we aim to investigate it by focusing on activities related to the management of land in a broad sense. This includes measuring, (re)claiming, and administering land; establishing or challenging property rights to land; cultivating and farming land; producing, processing, and selling agricultural products; experimenting with agricultural practices; developing and applying agronomic knowledge; settling the land; administering and controlling rural populations, and resisting such efforts; organizing rural social and political life; remodeling or demolishing villages; and turning rural life into the object of artistic interest.

In looking at these phenomena, many of which were local, regional, or transnational in character, we aim to provide a history of contemporary Europe that gives priority to the different historical actors, their interests and strategies, their similarities and differences across geographical and cultural difference. In trying to provide a complex account of rural and agricultural history, we want to cover a wide variety of actors, ranging from peasants to bureaucrats, from landowners to the advocates of land reform and collectivization, from the members of conservative women’s associations to business representatives advertising the use of new agricultural technologies. Furthermore, rather than focusing on the level of discourse, we emphasize the interdependence between everyday and grassroots activities related to land and top-down efforts at managing rural life and economies.

Our goal is to cover the topic based on the different regions and cultures of Europe over the course of the twentieth century. Therefore we are looking for contributions that are geographically diverse, ranging from Eastern to Western Europe, from Southern to Northern Europe (and all the spaces and regions in between these categories) and that pay critical attention to the question what makes the individual cases ‘European’. Along these lines, we also welcome contributions that investigate relations between European experiences and policies and other parts of the world, especially in the context of colonialism, trade, and migration.

We invite proposals for papers from scholars of rural and agricultural history as much as from scholars of other fields of historical research such as gender history, political history, social and economic history, history of science and technology, international history, and social and legal anthropology. We ask that each proposal makes clear how it relates to the activity-centered approach described above, and how it positions itself in a contemporary European history.

Proposals should be 500 words in length and should be sent to the conveners together with a one-page CV. The deadline is November 7, 2018. We will aim to inform you about our decision by December 15, 2018.

The workshop will start on Thursday morning and end on Friday afternoon in time for participants to depart from Florence in the evening. We will be able to cover travel costs (economy class/second class rail), accommodation for two nights (April 10-12), and meals during the workshop.

For questions, feel free to contact the conveners.


Contact (announcement)

Corinna Unger (
Dietmar Müller (
Liesbeth van de Grift (