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  • Individuals, Families, and Communities in Europe, 1200–1800: The Urban Foundations of Western Society
  • Steven Ozment
Individuals, Families, and Communities in Europe, 1200–1800: The Urban Foundations of Western Society. By Katherine A. Lynch. [Cambridge Studies in Population, Economy and Society in Past Time, 37.] (New York: Cambridge University Press. 2003. Pp. xiii, 250. $65.00 clothbound; $24.00 Paperback.)

For Katherine Lynch, the foundations of Western society evolved from networks of individuals, families, and communities between the thirteenth century [End Page 529] and the French Revolution. Her study covers Europe north and south and draws on the latest research on key cities and states. She documents old, inclusive "habits of association" that allowed families and communities to intermingle and ultimately become nations. More reinvention than a new departure, the only true novelty in the process is said to be the "increasing secular and political tone of associational life" by the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

What interests Lynch is the symbiotic relationship between households, families, and communities: "how family and community became interdependent parts of the same society." She perceives a connected process in which socially bound networks of individuals, both by nature and self-interest, form enduring bonds as they evolve into communities, which in turn become societies. In the process, working women, traditional religious confessions, and social welfare programs are seen to play key, positive roles in creating modern states and nations.

The paid work of women was both a "normal feature" of this evolution, and something absolutely vital to it. As a history of working women, Lynch's study is upbeat about women's opportunities, especially those of working wives. She downplays patriarchy as a chief factor in community building, treats the relations between the sexes with the complexity they deserve, and makes the case for women's opportunities and acceptance in the workplace, despite some guild pruning and a "relative decline" in women's access to the better-paid jobs by the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Lynch also gives the Church credit where it is due. Despite its greater protectiveness by comparison with a more open civic community, the Church played a helpful role in the construction of extramarital forms of community life (e.g., beguinages and confraternities). Far more attention is given to urban welfare legislation, an ancient preoccupation of lay and municipal authorities and perhaps our best index of a mature, united, and morally responsible community.

Lynch concludes her substantial study with a chapter on poor relief and family during the French Revolution, apparently finding in the latter a new, mixed departure in community and nation building.

Steven Ozment
Harvard University


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pp. 529-530
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