Jewish Country Houses – Objects, Networks, People is a 4-year research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council commencing in October 2019.
Country houses are powerful symbols of national identity, evoking the glamorous world of the landowning aristocracy and its feudal origins. By contrast, this project focuses on a hitherto unidentified group of country houses in the UK and continental Europe: those owned, renewed and sometimes built by Jews and those of Jewish origin. Some are now museums of international importance, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors each year; many more have been demolished or repurposed. A few are modern ruins, hovering still between memory and oblivion.
Individually, these palaces, villas and country houses tell a story of social forgetting and the problematic place occupied by even the most spectacular ‘Jewish’ country houses within nationally constructed heritage cultures. Taken together they illuminate the transformative impact of Jewish emancipation on modern European politics, society and culture. Many have extraordinary art collections and gardens. Some were stages for lavish entertaining, others provided inspiration to the European avant garde. All were beloved homes that bear witness to the remarkable achievements of newly emancipated Jews across Europe - and to a dream of belonging that mostly came to a brutal end with the Holocaust, a trauma that changed the world of the Anglo-Jewish elite in more subtle ways.
This project, which emerges from close partnerships with the heritage sector, is the first attempt to write these houses and their owners back into British, European and Jewish history and to establish their importance as sites of European – and Jewish - memory.