Studies on the History of Society and Culture

Published by: University of California Press

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Studies on the History of Society and Culture

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The Family on Trial in Revolutionary France

Suzanne Desan

In a groundbreaking book that challenges many assumptions about gender and politics in the French Revolution, Suzanne Desan offers an insightful analysis of the ways the Revolution radically redefined the family and its internal dynamics. She shows how revolutionary politics and laws brought about a social revolution within households and created space for thousands of French women and men to reimagine their most intimate relationships. Families negotiated new social practices, including divorce, the reduction of paternal authority, egalitarian inheritance for sons and daughters alike, and the granting of civil rights to illegitimate children. Contrary to arguments that claim the Revolution bound women within a domestic sphere, The Family on Trial maintains that the new civil laws and gender politics offered many women unexpected opportunities to gain power, property, or independence.

The family became a political arena, a practical terrain for creating the Republic in day-to-day life. From 1789, citizens across France—sons and daughters, unhappily married spouses and illegitimate children, pamphleteers and moralists, deputies and judges—all disputed how the family should be reformed to remake the new France. They debated how revolutionary ideals and institutions should transform the emotional bonds, gender dynamics, legal customs, and economic arrangements that structured the family. They asked how to bring the principles of liberty, equality, and regeneration into the home. And as French citizens confronted each other in the home, in court, and in print, they gradually negotiated new domestic practices that balanced Old Regime customs with revolutionary innovations in law and culture. In a narrative that combines national-level analysis with a case study of family contestation in Normandy, Desan explores these struggles to bring politics into households and to envision and put into practice a new set of familial relationships.

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Fascist Modernities

Italy, 1922-1945

Ruth Ben-Ghiat

Ruth Ben-Ghiat's innovative cultural history of Mussolini's dictatorship is a provocative discussion of the meanings of modernity in interwar Italy. Eloquent, pathbreaking, and deft in its use of a broad range of materials, this work argues that fascism appealed to many Italian intellectuals as a new model of modernity that would resolve the contemporary European crisis as well as long-standing problems of the national past. Ben-Ghiat shows that—at a time of fears over the erosion of national and social identities—Mussolini presented fascism as a movement that would allow economic development without harm to social boundaries and national traditions. She demonstrates that although the regime largely failed in its attempts to remake Italians as paragons of a distinctly fascist model of mass society, twenty years of fascism did alter the landscape of Italian cultural life. Among younger intellectuals in particular, the dictatorship left a legacy of practices and attitudes that often continued under different political rubrics after 1945.

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France and the Cult of the Sacred Heart

An Epic Tale for Modern Times

Raymond Jonas

In a richly layered and beautifully illustrated narrative, Raymond Jonas tells the fascinating and surprisingly little-known story of the Sacré-Coeur, or Sacred Heart. The highest point in Paris and a celebrated tourist destination, the white-domed basilica of Sacré-Coeur on Montmartre is a key monument both to French Catholicism and to French national identity. Jonas masterfully reconstructs the history of the devotion responsible for the basilica, beginning with the apparition of the Sacred Heart to Marguerite Marie Alacoque in the seventeenth century, through the French Revolution and its aftermath, to the construction of the monumental church that has loomed over Paris since the end of the nineteenth century.

Jonas focuses on key moments in the development of the cult: the founding apparition, its invocation during the plague of Marseilles, its adaptation as a royalist symbol during the French Revolution, and its elevation to a central position in Catholic devotional and political life in the crisis surrounding the Franco-Prussian War. He draws on a wealth of archival sources to produce a learned yet accessible narrative that encompasses a remarkable sweep of French politics, history, architecture, and art.

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Obstinate Hebrews

Representations of Jews in France, 1715-1815

Ronald Schechter

Enlightenment writers, revolutionaries, and even Napoleon discussed and wrote about France's tiny Jewish population at great length. Why was there so much thinking about Jews when they were a minority of less than one percent and had little economic and virtually no political power? In this unusually wide-ranging study of representations of Jews in eighteenth-century France—both by Gentiles and Jews themselves—Ronald Schechteroffers fresh perspectives on the Enlightenment and French Revolution, on Jewish history, and on the nature of racism and intolerance. Informed by the latest historical scholarship and by the insights of cultural theory, Obstinate Hebrews is a fascinating tale of cultural appropriation cast in the light of modern society's preoccupation with the "other."

Schechter argues that the French paid attention to the Jews because thinking about the Jews helped them reflect on general issues of the day. These included the role of tradition in religion, the perfectibility of human nature, national identity, and the nature of citizenship. In a conclusion comparing and contrasting the "Jewish question" in France with discourses about women, blacks, and Native Americans, Schechter provocatively widens his inquiry, calling for a more historically precise approach to these important questions of difference.

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Popular Theater and Society in Tsarist Russia

Tony Swift

This is the most comprehensive study available of the popular theater that developed during the last decades of tsarist Russia. Swift examines the origins and significance of the new "people's theaters" that were created for the lower classes in St. Petersburg and Moscow between 1861 and 1917. His extensively researched study, full of anecdotes from the theater world of the day, shows how these people's theaters became a major arena in which the cultural contests of late imperial Russia were played out and how they contributed to the emergence of an urban consumer culture during this period of rapid social and political change.

Swift illuminates many aspects of the story of these popular theaters—the cultural politics and aesthetic ambitions of theater directors and actors, state censorship politics and their role in shaping the theatrical repertoire, and the theater as a vehicle for social and political reform. He looks at roots of the theaters, discusses specific theaters and performances, and explores in particular how popular audiences responded to the plays.

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The Three-Piece Suit and Modern Masculinity

England, 1550–1850

David Kuchta

In 1666, King Charles II felt it necessary to reform Englishmen's dress by introducing a fashion that developed into the three-piece suit. We learn what inspired this royal revolution in masculine attire--and the reasons for its remarkable longevity--in David Kuchta's engaging and handsomely illustrated account. Between 1550 and 1850, Kuchta says, English upper- and middle-class men understood their authority to be based in part upon the display of masculine character: how they presented themselves in public and demonstrated their masculinity helped define their political legitimacy, moral authority, and economic utility. Much has been written about the ways political culture, religion, and economic theory helped shape ideals and practices of masculinity. Kuchta allows us to see the process working in reverse, in that masculine manners and habits of consumption in a patriarchal society contributed actively to people's understanding of what held England together.

Kuchta shows not only how the ideology of modern English masculinity was a self-consciously political and public creation but also how such explicitly political decisions and values became internalized, personalized, and naturalized into everyday manners and habits.

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