Families, History, and Social Change: Life Course and Cross-Cultural Perspectives

Families, History, and Social Change: Life Course and Cross-Cultural Perspectives

Families, History, and Social Change: Life Course and Cross-Cultural Perspectives

Families, History, and Social Change: Life Course and Cross-Cultural Perspectives

Excerpt

Over the past thirty years, I have had the opportunity and privilege to participate in the development of a new field--social history and its related subdiscipline, the history of the family. The 1960s and 1970s witnessed the unfolding and the development of the "new social history," which was also closely related to the "new urban history," labor history, ethnic history, and the history of the family (see Chapter 14, "What Difference Does It Make?").

Underlying these new historical pursuits was a commitment on the part of scholars to come as close as possible to retrieving the experiences of ordinary people in the past, to reconstruct the social context of various groups and classes, sometimes entire communities, and to tell the story from the perception of the participants rather than from the vantage point of the upper classes, employers, and custodians. The history of the family and the new social history have now become established fields in their own right. But those of us involved in the initial discoveries and deliberations still feel the excitement of those early days.

Within this very broad tapestry of scholarly enterprise, characterized by the exciting search for new methods and previously unexplored sources, I focused on the history of the family. From 1967 on, I made the historical study of the family my main objective, and I devoted my energies to my own scholarship as well as to the development of this new field. The reason I became so interested in this area is because I viewed the family as the "missing link" between individual lives and the larger processes of social change. The family is the arena in which many of these interactions with the larger processes take place. Hence, my own research focused on the family's relationship to the process of industrialization. My overall commitment has been to study the family and individuals in time and place rather than focusing on the family in isolation, as was often done in earlier sociological research (see Chapter 1, "The History of the Family and the Complexity of Social Change").

The route by which I arrived at the history of the family was, however, a circuitous one. Similarly to other historians from my generation who "discovered" the family, I came from a different direction, but one that placed me in a fortuitous position to address the historical study of the family. I arrived in the United States in 1961 after graduating from the He brew University . . .

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