Arenberg Foundation

Arenberg Conference for History

First Arenberg Conference for History on ‘Dynastic identity’ in Amsterdam

October 6-7, 2011


It is with great pleasure that the Arenberg Foundation announces the Ist Arenberg Conference for History on ‘Dynastic identity’ in Amsterdam.

As an ancient European family, the Arenbergs have always viewed history as an invaluable asset in understanding the world, and the numerous challenges it encountered in its nearly 1000 years of existence.  Therefore the Arenberg family is glad to pursue its historical commitments – after opening-up the family’s private archives in Enghien, Belgium – by organising this new series of conferences.  By doing so, we hope to contribute to historical sciences, since it is of great help in grasping the numerous complexities of our ever-changing modern society.  History not only helps us to define where we stand, but especially where we want to go in our respective communities, countries, Europe, and of course in the world at large.

The conference’s theme ‘Dynastic identity in Early Modern Europe.  The dynamics of aristocratic identity formation’ is especially dear to us, not only for family reasons, but also because identities are very much present in today’s discourses.  Too often they are seen as seemingly unchangeable safe havens in a constantly changing environment, and not enough as the immensely dynamic concepts that they truly are.

By bringing together scholars from all over Europe, we hope that history will remain an inspiration for tomorrow’s world.

Few doubts can persist today on the existence of specific dynastic identities of Europe’s great families. The self-definition of these aristocrats focussed on claims of eternity and universality (as Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann recently defined it). Aristocrats developed a sense of lineage and continuity between past, present and future generations. So far, these identities have been studied mostly for ruling dynasties. However, exclusive identities were not just a prerogative of the “great dynasties” - as for instance the Habsburgs - they were carefully cultivated and promoted by noble houses throughout Europe.

These last few years, discussions on identity have dominated popular and scientific discourse alike. Definitions on identity are abundant, whether on national, ethnic or collective or other grounds. This conference will be concerned with identities relevant to families. Identities are rarely static or unchanging, and often influenced by a multitude of factors. It is not another definition of identity we seek, but rather an insight into the development of identity formation in the Europe of the Ancien Regime. This will allow us to reconstruct the worldview and motives of the most powerful individuals and families in early modern societies.

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