Rural and Environmental History Group

Social organisation of rural life in Gelderland, 1840-1880

In the first half of the nineteenth century the gentlemen were very active in Gelderland. A great example of this can be seen in the publication in 1826 of the Statistical description of Gelderland by the provincial committee of agriculture. Its members were among others A.C.W. Staring, A.P.R.C. van der Borch van Verwolde, C.H. van Nispen tot Pannerden, W.J.E. van Lijnden van Hemmen. These families and others (like Van Brakell tot den Eng) also played an important role in the period from 1840 in the Agricultural Society of Gelderland (Gelderse Maatschappij van Landbouw - GMvL) (founded in 1845). The same names of important, aristocratic families can be found in the government of the province and the municipalities. In this period we study the gentlemen at the height of their power. Although the institutional context had changed from the middle of the nineteenth century and become more democratic, the aristocracy/gentry did keep their dominant position for a long time to come.

In this project we want to analyse the role of the other stakeholders in this period, such as the churches and the farmers. Were they already challenging the position of the gentlemen? Did they have different interests and opinions on the development of the region and the locality? In what kinds of organisations were they active at the local level? Who were the leading figures? By asking these questions we hope to qualify the dominant position of the aristocracy.

At the same time, we want to study more closely the role of the gentlemen and their ideas. We are interested to see whether they can be seen as one, homogeneous group or whether they had conflicting ideas and opinions. We are also interested in analysing their networks. Where did they meet each other? How were they using their national and regional connections to realise their ideas? We will do this in two ways. Firstly, we will study lists of organisations and perform a formal network analysis. Secondly, we will investigate the correspondence of important figures, such as W.C.H. Staring and Verwolde, to see who there contacts were, but also to get a better view of the character of these contacts and about the inspirational sources for their ideas.

Because we know that the gentlemen had a dominant position in the GMvL and in the provincial and municipal governments, we will finally also study policies of the provincial board (gedeputeerde staten) and the municipal councils(gemeenteraad) directed to the modernisation of the countryside. How did they stimulate the modernisation of the countryside? How did the gentlemen make use of the different organisations of which they were members? And will we see changes when the farmers entered the municipal councils?

With this study we will reconstruct the regional and local networks that were active in Gelderland in this period. We will analyse how they functioned, what their programme was, whether they were contested by other groups and how this all started to change under influence of the processes of state formation and nation building and of commercialisation and professionalisation.

The sources we will use are mainly the archives of the provincial board, the GMvL, the agricultural commission, juridical and notarial archives, archives of private individuals like Verwolde, Staring, Van Nispen tot Sevenaer, archives of municipal councils, Episcopal archives in Utrecht and local church archives.