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Resonances and Representations: Aspects of The English Country House

30th November 2020 22nd February 2021

Resonances and Representations: English Country House

About this Course

Resonances and Representations: Aspects of The English Country House is a 10 week online course covering the politics of heritage and the struggle to save these historic houses.

The English country house is a curious phenomenon: large monuments to enormous concentrations of wealth and rigid class structures somehow remain enormously popular in the twentieth-first century. Large numbers of visitors crowd out these monuments to someone else’s taste and wealth on every sunny bank holiday. 

The fundamental approach we will take is to consider the country house from the perspective of how they are represented and used in the twenty-first century. All the details are to be agreed amongst the class, but we have the opportunity to look at some wildly and enduringly popular representations: the opulence of Downton Abbey enjoyed by millions, and the nostalgic world of Brideshead Revisited which has delighted for generations.

We will consider the politics of heritage and the struggle to save these houses. How, and what, history is presented to us, the public? Which histories are kept hidden?  We will particularly look at how houses have presented uncomfortable pasts: questions of race, imperialism and the slave trade; the backbreaking work of labourers and servants who worked to make such splendour possible.  Underpinning this, there will be a chronological overview to provide a background narrative of the development, decline and renewal of the country house over a 400 year period.

Session Themes

Details above give a taste of what we might consider, but as our approach will be co-operative, we will respond to the things which interest members of the group, as well as covering core ground to give you a balanced understanding.

Come armed with questions and ideas. In our first session, we begin by focusing on a simple question: what is a country house? We will then agree our plan for the rest of the module, sketch out the questions we want to ask and establish our parameters. This will include agreement about how students would like to contribute to sessions. It will also be a chance to get to know each other a bit.  

The proposed course outline is:

  1. What is a country house?
  2. Survey I: development to 1750
  3. Landscapes and gardens
  4. Survey II: 1750-1870
  5. Country house libraries
  6. Survey III: 1870-1945 + Representations: Brideshead revisited
  7. Representations: Upstairs/downstairs
  8. Survey IV: 1945-present
  9. Decolonizing the country house: race, slavery, empire
  10. Preservation and public history

Times & Dates

The course will be held on a Monday evening over 10 sessions. It will taught online rather than face to face. If you would like to take this course but cannot do it at this time, please let us know.

November 2020Monday 30-Nov6:30pm – 8:00pm GMT
December 2020Monday 07-Dec6:30pm – 8:00pm GMT
Monday 14-Dec6:30pm – 8:00pm GMT
January 2021Monday 11-Jan6:30pm – 8:00pm GMT
Monday 18-Jan6:30pm – 8:00pm GMT
Monday 25-Jan6:30pm – 8:00pm GMT
February 2021Monday 01-Feb6:30pm – 8:00pm GMT
Monday 08-Feb6:30pm – 8:00pm GMT
Monday 15-Feb6:30pm – 8:00pm GMT
Monday 22-Feb6:30pm – 8:00pm GMT


It will be taught without library access, so we will use different approaches to source material. 

  1. You will need to buy a copy of Mark Girouard’s Life in the English country house (any edition); second-hand ones can be obtained for a few pounds.  
  2. We will identify reading material online.
  3. We’ll use online sources, such as country house websites. 
  4. Sessions will be interactive and used mixed learning methods. Typically these means a short lecture, some tutorial discussion of certain questions, and quick presentations about individual country houses from learners. 

Assessment and Entrance Requirements

There are no entrance requirements for this, other than being interested in the topic. It will be taught at the equivalent of the first year of a degree programme, so it should be possible for anyone to benefit from it. 

It carries no credits, and there are no mandatory assessments. You will be welcome to write an essay or complete some other assignment and receive feedback if you wish. 

Field Trip

We will attempt some kind of visit to a Country House. Many houses close in winter months, which may limit our choices. The current situation means this will look very different to conventional trips, for example you might go individually and report back.

Our approach might be to do with the exterior and grounds or using google earth. It will be subject to a risk assessment approved by Leicester Vaughan College to ensure safety for all.

About the Tutor

Dr Malcolm Noble is a social and economic historian. He has taught the history of the English country house and public history in a range of contexts. One of his research interests is about country house opera as a kind of public history, in economic rather than musical terms.

Registrations Now Closed

To hear about the next session of this course, please join our mailing list using the form on this page.


30th November 2020
22nd February 2021
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Leicester Vaughan College
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United Kingdom
Resonances and Representations: Aspects of The English Country House

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