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Cameralism and the production of space in the eighteenth-century Romanian Banat: the grid villages of the ‘Danube Swabians’

Highlights•Examines the production of Habsburg cultural landscapes in the Romanian Banat.•Analyses the morphology and significance of the region’s iconic grid villages.•Evaluates this landscape within the framework of spatialization theory.•Identifies cameralist social and political discourses encoded in the landscape.•Argues that Habsburg colonial actions produced an ‘abstract’ reordering of space.AbstractThis article addresses the origin, morphology and significance of planned villages associated with the Habsburg colonization of the Romanian Banat, a region in east-central Europe comprising parts of present day Serbia, Romania and Hungary, in the eighteenth century. In an effort to repopulate and bring into agricultural production a territory that had been devastated by warfare, the Habsburg state under Maria Theresa and Joseph II devised and directed a series of large scale, systematic efforts to colonize the region, primarily with German speaking farmers from the upper Rhine valley. One of the most distinctive features of the cultural landscape produced by this colonization was dozens of centrally planned agricultural villages featuring Baroque architectural elements. Most of these villages adhered to a regular, rectilinear form, but other forms, such as street villages and circular hamlets, were employed as well. Together, these town and village morphologies comprise a planned, systematic settlement pattern that is found in few other places in Europe, and as such sets the region apart. Employing fieldwork and archival research, the paper describes the characteristic elements of these villages and uses ideas of the production of space as a framework for understanding the distinctive historical-political discourses encoded in this cultural landscape.

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