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Revolution and social mobility in nineteenth-century Europe
15-10-2023 - Ore 23:59
Revolution and social mobility in nineteenth-century Europe
Organizing committee: Sylvie Aprile, Pierre-Marie Delpu, Louis Hincker, and Jean le Bihan.
This conference, due to take place in Clermont-Ferrand in June 19-20, 2024, is organized by the Center for History: Space and Culture (University of Clermont Auvergne) and the Society for the History of the Revolution of 1848 and Other Nineteenth-Century Revolutions.
It builds on the international conference organized by the Center for History: Space and Culture (University of Clermont Auvergne) and the Society for Robespierre Studies, “Social Mobility in Post-French Revolution Europe and its Colonies,” which will be held in Clermont-Ferrand on October 19-20, 2023.
Did the nineteenth century political revolutions change conditions of social mobility? One might expect so given the judicial reforms that ensued, but the cause and effect relationship that is discernable between 1789 and 1799 is evident over the long term. It is clear that there is a problem of time scale, as the long-term processes demonstrated by the economic and political “double revolution” (Hobsbawm) that began in the second half of the eighteenth century suggest a centuries-long trend. At this level, structural and collective disruptions are apparent. Was there a specific additional element created by the nineteenth century revolutions?
To explore the relationship between revolution and social mobility, in the nineteenth century we can speak of the risks of revolution which together allow the historian to observe either individual cases, coordinated groups of individuals, or groups of individuals sharing certain characteristics to explore militancy, reversals, gains or losses, and importantly, the repression from which some benefitted. Is it possible to define these striking changes in terms of occupation, status, rank, or work, and if so, for what time scale?
Because the nineteenth century concerns such uncertain, fluid, and ephemeral configurations, it is important to analyze the political ruptures and social adaptations that they create to understand their importance as one of the key preoccupations for contemporaries of the different events addressed by this conference.
Reform and Mobility
The first topic of study in this conference will be the reforms carried out during the revolutionary sequences that through their more or less long term effects significantly transformed the conditions in which men and women were able to change position in the hierarchy of circumstances. These reforms involved especially the systems of justice and politics and the most spectacular were also concerned with a wider space near the end of liberal Europe. These range from the abolition of slavery in the French empire in 1848, to the end of the aristocratic regime in various central European states such as Prussia or Hungary following the “springtime” of the people. As boundaries are broken down outside of a narrow historiographic focus, there is much investigation necessary to understand with precision the concrete impact of structural reforms on social mobility.
Attention will also be given to other parts of the European continent, such as regions to the south and also the west, where there has been little emphasis. How, in these countries where the revolutions played a considerable role that is now recognized in political studies, were the conditions of social mobility transformed by the waves of 1830 and 1848, as well as in specific national settings, such as for instance the Portuguese revolution of 1820, the Italian war of independence of 1859, or the Spanish revolution of 1868? We know that the great judicial-political reforms that marked the nineteenth century generally moved towards “equal conditions,” in the terms of Tocqueville, and we understand that they followed the work of the French Revolution. We now must investigate what these reforms owe, in a specific and precise way, to the nineteenth century revolutions, given that the impact of revolutions, while often immediate, can also be delayed. The papers that are presented to explore this theme should pay especial attention to the diversity of national contexts as well as the timing of revolutions.
The French Revolution, followed by the Empire, greatly reconfigured European societies, creating new elites, redistributing land ownership, and reconfiguring the status of work by eliminating corporatism. The nineteenth century revolutions seem to have modified certain societies to a lesser degree, or at least less abruptly, with the exception of the end of serfdom in the German states (1808), in Russia (1861), and the abolition of slavery. Debate about social changes was, it seems, less divisive and played a smaller role in historiographical controversies. We will examine the diversity illustrated by the restructuring of social groups, rather than categories of social classes in conflict (nobility/bourgeoisie, bourgeoisie/lower classes). The focus will be on the “meso” level, meaning the new members of parliament, ministers, civil servants, consuls and diplomats of 1848, as well as their rapidly newborn opponents, among whom journalists or writers are represented among the new professionals that best represent the opportunities and mobility created by the Revolution. The new frameworks of space and time, as well as the new national borders themselves, present models of these changes as they occurred in different ways across Europe. There were also reversals, declining social mobility, and retreats that reorient the scene at the close of revolution, whether involving its victory or its defeat. While certain actors or protagonists benefited from the new political context, most also experienced repression that lessened their attachment not only to their ideas but also to their social categories.
The partial defeat of the Revolution requires us to pay special attention to the political writings of exiles. For some, these were efforts to locate existing economic or patriotic communities to which they could belong while abroad (diasporas, professional movements, merchants, etc). Other groups of revolutionary political exiles constructed vast migratory strategies and episodes. The post- revolutionary conjunctures (1820, 1831, 1848, 1871) constitute illuminating points of observation of these recompositions. The place of internment, fluency or lack of fluency in the host country’s language, reconversion of members of the military to civil occupations or the continuation of military service (in the foreign legion) overturned former positions. New professions developed as well, such as in photography, and the filing of patents also guaranteed incomes in new industries. In addition, managing goods and real estate from a distance often involved the reorganization of families, and sometimes female spouses, when they did not leave, played a major role especially when the goods were placed in receivership. Decisions to separate or keep intact the family necessarily place the question of gender at the heart of the revolutionary social reconfigurations.
As we can see in the Rougon-Macquart saga, individual fortunes could be made and unmade due to the uncertain contexts of the revolutionary period. The gains and losses of each stemmed from the year 1789 when the matriarchal and maternal head of the dual dynasty, Adélaïde Fouque, known as Aunt Dide, took a lover a year after the death of her husband. They would rebound spectacularly at each change in political regime until 1871. From the outset, Zola examines the conflict between upward and downward mobility in a nineteenth century marked by political unrest, as opportunities for some individuals came at the cost of others.
Through the study of individual trajectories, we will refresh our understanding of the dynamic of “protagonism” as defined by Haïm Burstin, meaning the proactive approach of individuals, from personal political participation to the development of a revolutionary identity. Dramatization of daily acts was not confined just to one side of the barricade in times of intense political conflict. Individuals on the side of repression were also able to benefit from revolutionary reversals of fortune.
If social mobility is measured not only in terms of profession, but also in the transformations of statute, responsibility, and notoriety, in the nineteenth century it was up to each individual to make the most of opportunities according to his or her abilities. This may best be understood in terms of the acquisition of prior social responsibilities or talents, whose hierarchy shift along with changing revolutionary contexts and the resulting possibilities that themselves alter individual priorities.
Upward or downward mobility may also be measured beyond personal trajectories, through two or more generations. Literature offers an exploration of the possibilities of delegated social mobility through an analysis of Guépard, written a century after the events that inspired it. In the novel, Prince Salina, while careful to avoid encouraging his own overthrow, gives his impetuous nephew Tancrède the task of remobilizing the aristocracy to serve Italy in the new era of the 1860s.
While seeking to avoid a multiplicity of examples for the sake of themselves, our conference welcomes comment on other singular cases as theorized for the enrichment of our understanding of the paradoxical dynamic between mobility and revolution.
Proposals may be sent to: email@example.com, no later than October 15, 2023. Please limit your proposal to a single page, accompanied by a short bio and list of publications. Your paper should fall into one of the three themes presented above. The conference languages are French and English.
Scientific Committee :
Arianna Arisi Rota (Pavie University), Fabrice Bensimon (Sorbonne University), Carole Christen (University of Le Havre), François Jarrige (University of Bourgogne), Jürgen Finger (Institute of German History), Pedro Rújula (University of Zaragoza).