The Family: A World History

The Family: A World History

The Family: A World History

The Family: A World History


People have always lived in families, but what that means has varied dramatically across time and cultures. The family is not a "natural" phenomenon but an institution with a dynamic history stretching 10,000 years into the past. Mary Jo Maynes and Ann Waltner tell the story of this fundamental unit from the beginnings of domestication and human settlement. They consider the codification of rules governing marriage in societies around the ancient world, the changing conceptions of family wrought by the heightened pace of colonialism and globalization in the modern world, and how state policies shape families today.

The authors illustrate ways in which differences in gender and generation have affected family relations over the millennia. Cooperation between family members--by birth or marriage--has driven expansions of power and fusions of culture in times and places as different as ancient Mesopotamia, where kings' daughters became priestesses who mediated among the various cultures and religions of their fathers' kingdom, and sixteenth-century Mexico, in which alliances between Spanish men and indigenous women variously allowed for consolidation of colonial power or empowered resistance to colonial rule. But family discord has also driven - and been driven by - historical events such as China's 1919 May Fourth Movement, in which young people seeking an end to patriarchal authority were key participants.

Maynes's and Waltner's view of the family as a force of history brings to light processes of human development and patterns of social life and allows for new insights into the human past and present.


This book is part of the New Oxford World History, an innovative series that offers readers an informed, lively, and up-to-date history of the world and its people that represents a significant change from the “old” world history. Only a few years ago, world history generally amounted to a history of the West—Europe and the United States—with small amounts of information from the rest of the world. Some versions of the “old” world history drew attention to every part of the world except Europe and the United States. Readers of that kind of world history could get the impression that somehow the rest of the world was made up of exotic people who had strange customs and spoke difficult languages. Still another kind of “old” world history presented the story of areas or peoples of the world by focusing primarily on the achievements of great civilizations. One learned of great buildings, influential world religions, and mighty rulers but little of ordinary people or more general economic and social patterns. Interactions among the world’s peoples were often told from only one perspective.

This series tells world history differently. First, it is comprehensive, covering all countries and regions of the world and investigating the total human experience—even those of so-called peoples without histories living far from the great civilizations. “New” world historians thus share in common an interest in all of human history, even going back millions of years before there were written human records. A few “new” world histories even extend their focus to the entire universe, a “big history” perspective that dramatically shifts the beginning of the story back to the big bang. Some see the “new” global framework of world history today as viewing the world from the vantage point of the Moon, as one scholar put it. We agree. But we also want to take a closeup view, analyzing and reconstructing the significant experiences of all of humanity.

This is not to say that everything that has happened everywhere and in all time periods can be recovered or is worth knowing, but that there is much to be gained by considering both the separate and interrelated stories of different societies and cultures. Making these connections is still another crucial ingredient of the “new” world history. It emphasizes . . .

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