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  • Family and Community in the Early Modern Period
  • Frances E. Dolan (bio)
Barbara Watson Andaya. The Flaming Womb: Repositioning Women in Early Modern Southeast Asia. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2006. xi + 335 pp. ISBN 0-8248-2955-7 (cl); 0-8248-3288-4 (pb).
Stephanie Tarbin and Susan Broomhall, eds. Women, Identities and Communities in Early Modern Europe. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2007. 242 pp.; ill. ISBN 0-7546-6184-9 (cl).
James Casey. Family and Community in Early Modern Spain: The Citizens of Granada, 1570–1739. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. viii + 314 pp.; ill.. ISBN 0-521-85589-6.
Joanne M. Ferraro. Nefarious Crimes, Contested Justice: Illicit Sex and Infanticide in the Republic of Venice, 1557–1789. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008. xv + 248 pp.; ill. ISBN 0-8018-8987-1 (cl).

All of these books emphasize the embeddedness of individuals in their families and communities, and the consequent impossibility of separating identity from family and community in this period. As many of the writers here argue, early modern people often experienced their own interests and agency in collective terms. As Anne Laurence puts it in an essay about Ireland in Women, Identities and Communities in Early Modern Europe, edited by Tarbin and Broomhall, "it was concerns of family survival that dictated the strategies people embarked on in their marriages, their religious conversions and their education" (26). The families discussed here are broadly defined to include servants and sometimes slaves, clerical visitors, distant relatives, suspicious guests, or one's "sisters" in a convent. These families overlap and intersect to form communities. As Casey explains of Granada in Family and Community in Early Modern Spain, "The concept of the 'home' as such can hardly be said to exist. What we have is a fine network of personal ties reaching out across the physical space of the community as a whole, an archipelago of family units, scattered along streets and neighbourhoods, embracing houses, convents and schools" (162). These communities, in turn, sometimes support, and sometimes compete with or oppose the families of which they are constituted. For many of these writers, embeddedness is what marks the subject and the family as early modern: the "separation out [End Page 305] of the private sphere of the 'family' as a space dedicated to the companionship of the sexes and the education of the young from the public activity of the citizen and the worker was one of the characteristic features of the transition to modern times" (Casey, 292).

These books include two wide-ranging studies and two sharply focused ones. Andaya's The Flaming Womb synthesizes the existing scholarship on women across a vast and diverse terrain including Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, and Burma between 1400 and 1800. Andaya argues that in the early modern period "there is a 'Southeast Asia' where the history of women can legitimately be investigated" despite the fact that "the political boundaries that demarcate Southeast Asia were largely nonexistent until modern times" (6). Andaya provides a useful overview for those who focus on only one language tradition within Southeast Asia, those whose interest in the region is grounded in a later period, and those whose understanding of the early modern period has been restricted to Europe. The Tarbin and Broomhall collection also covers a varied geography, although its turf will be more familiar to many early modernists, in that it includes essays on Ireland, France, the Netherlands, England, Sweden, and Germany. This collection itself commemorates and expresses a scholarly community because it is dedicated and indebted to the historian Patricia Crawford, who died two years after the collection was published. The accomplished contributors to this fine collection, and the essays that represent them here, offer tribute indeed to their teacher and colleague. The other two books reviewed here, Casey's study of Granada and Ferraro's detailed exploration of sex crimes in Venice, Nefarious Crimes, Contested Justice, are more chronologically and geographically focused. Yet their close scrutiny of particular cases yields insights with broad implications for our understanding of the early modern period. Each of these books has new information and analysis to impart. Taken together, they contribute to the ongoing interrogation of the relationships among women...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2036
Print ISSN
1042-7961
Pages
pp. 305-314
Launched on MUSE
2010-12-16
Open Access
No
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