Family History Revisited: Comparative Perspectives

Family History Revisited: Comparative Perspectives

Family History Revisited: Comparative Perspectives

Family History Revisited: Comparative Perspectives


This collection of original essays by the leading scholars on the historical study of the family covers topics ranging from the timing of marriage and chldbearing to love, family relations, gender roles, aging, the relations between generations, and family and household dynamics among various social classes. The essays point to new directions in the field by examining the dimensions of family relations such as the role of love in the life of peasants, the interaction of children born out of wedlock with their fathers, the impact of property on family relations and the role of culture, as well as social structure in explaining family and life course patterns. Essays by Tamara Hareven and Peter Laslett discuss general developments in this field and their relationship to the larger understanding of social change.


Over the past thirty years, family history has become one of the most expansive fields of research and a particularly dynamic area within social history. This undoubtedly is due to an ongoing interest in the family among scholars as well as the general public. Among the many aspects of life that have been undergoing rapid transformations in contemporary society, the family in particular is strongly connected with the experiences of individual men and women and the ways in which they live their lives. Over the past centuries, the family has been cast in the role of maintaining societal values, as well as a target of political agendas and ideologies. All these factors ensure an ongoing interest in the family.

Since its emergence about thirty years ago, this field, as with social history in general, has developed in the direction of increasing specialization. Cultural and historical-anthropological approaches are now taking their places alongside the “classic,” quantitative structural analyses of household organization and demographic processes of the 1960s and early 1970s. The close affiliation of family history with historical demography has been augmented by more intensive connections with other subdisciplines—above all with women’s history. Research in the history of the family has become more closely linked to gender studies, particularly in the areas of the gendered division of labor in the family and the gendered construction of familial roles. It has become more multifaceted and less clear-cut, thus doing justice to the complexity of the family’s interaction with the processes of social change, particularly the process of industrialization.

Over the past two decades research in family history has expanded in many directions. Substantively, it has expanded to encompass the role of kinship networks outside the household, the family’s interaction with the process of industrialization and changes in the timing of life transitions over the life course. Chronologically, research has expanded to antiquity, and geographically from Western Europe, North America and Japan to Northern and Eastern Europe, to southern Europe and the Mediterranean, and to China.

The cumulative impact of studies in the history of the family has been to revise simplistic views of both social change and family behavior. Before systematic historical study of the family began, various social science disciplines had generated their own myths and grand theories about continuities . . .

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