Family, Property, Inheritance – Inheritance Practices in the 20th Century

15.09.2017, Konferenz, DHI Washington

Deutsches Historisches Institut Washington

Although historians have published extensively on inheritance law and practices in earlier periods in a variety of world regions and among different social groups, the twentieth century remains largely unexplored. This workshop thus seeks to bring together the history of inheritance and contemporary history.

We want to examine and compare how property and property rights were distributed upon death in different world regions, urban settings, and social groups from the late nineteenth century to the present. We want to analyze how wealth transfers influenced family and kinship in terms of individual life plans, intra-family relations (including sibling and gender dynamics), intergenerational relations, questions of race, social inequality, and mobility (including transnational migration). Specifically, we seek to analyze what strategies (wills, trusts, inheritance agreements, etc.) testators used to distribute which parts of their property to which heirs and what factors determined their choice of heirs and the apportionment of property and assets among them. We are also interested in increasingly common strategies used to minimize different taxes on inheritances, such as the use of tax havens and low-tax jurisdictions for setting up trusts and the like.

By examining inheritance practices, the workshop aims to provide new insights into the structure and meaning of personal networks (like family and kinship relations) in the twentieth century. The workshop’s focus on inherited property is also intended to shed new light on continuities and discontinuities in social inequality in families and in societies. Finally, the workshop will explore the interdependence between public, social, and economic welfare structures, on the one hand, and private family and kinship networks, on the other hand, in the modern age.

The conference is generously supported by the German Historical Institute, Washington DC and the Hoerner Bank AG, Heilbronn, Germany.


Friday, September 15

10:00 – 10:30 am Introduction

Simone Lässig (GHI Washington)
Jürgen Dinkel (University of Leipzig)

10:30 am – 12.15 pm 
Panel 1: Inheritance strategies within (transnational) Families

David Green (King’s College London)
The Right of the Dead Man’s Hand? Inheritance, the State and Family
‘Wealthfare’ in England and Wales, 1850–1930

Alastair Owens (Queen Mary University of London)
Inheritance strategies within families

Jürgen Dinkel 
Inheritance Transfers within Transnational Families, 1940s to 1970s

Moderator: Elisabeth Engel (GHI Washington) 
Comment: Hendrik Hartog (Princeton University)

12:15 – 13:30 pm Lunch at the GHI

13:30 – 15:30 pm  
Panel 2: Inheritance strategies, family conflicts and the state

Shennette M. Garrett-Scott (University of Mississippi)
Maggie Lena Walker’s “Will” and the Fraught Legacy of a Self-Made African American Woman in the Early Twentieth-Century United States

Simone Derix (LMU München/ Universität Frankfurt)
Contested Property. Inheritance Conflicts within Wealthy Families

Ute Schneider (Universität Duisburg-Essen)
Hereditary relations: Germany East and West

Moderator: Elke E. Stockreiter (American University)
Comment: Vanessa Ogle (UC Berkeley)

15:30 – 15:45 pm Coffee Break

15:45 – 16:45 pm Final Discussion
Moderator: Vanessa Ogle 


Jürgen Dinkel