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  • The History of Families and Households: Comparative European Dimensions eds. by Sovič Silvia, Thane Pat, Viazzo Pier Paolo
  • Claudia Contente
Sovič Silvia, Thane Pat, Viazzo Pier Paolo (eds.), 2016, The History of Families and Households: Comparative European Dimensions, Leiden and Boston, Brill, 278 p.

The models developed by Hajnal and Laslett(1) to account for the various forms of European family structures over history have been much debated since they were presented in the 1960s and 70s. The studies in this book belong to that line of inquiry; the book bears the name of the June 2010 conference at London University's Institute of Historical Research where they were presented. Part I offers an overview of the "commonalities and diversities" between family structures in various geographic regions of Europe. Beatrice Moring investigates the notion of family, attempting to grasp family dynamics on the basis of indices other than those generally used – e.g. co-residence as apprehended by censuses. This enables her to examine the mutual economic assistance ability of families in different circumstances such as old age and widowhood. Violetta Hionidou analyses family organization on the Greek island of Kythera on the basis of eighteenth-century population censuses conducted by the Venitian administration and nineteenth-century censuses conducted under the British protectorate. She observes the effect of migration on households, the opposite of what is usually observed: here household composition was metamorphosized to enlarge the family by playing on age at marriage, for example, while preserving the principles of "equitable distribution among sons" that had always characterized family practices on the island.

The other two chapters of Part 1 concern Serbia. Mirjana Bobić, studies poll tax records to identify and reconstruct households in the region of Branković, under Ottoman rule, in 1455, while critically analyzing Laslett's categories and the difficulty of applying them to the case under study. Siegfried Gruber draws on data from the 1866 census to examine regional differences in household structure in nineteenth-century rural Serbia. He manages to discern significant regional variations and the factors that may explain them, precisely mapping differences in household complexity from one locality to another. His conclusions are quite stimulating.

Part 2 focuses on the roles of church and state in family dynamics. Daniela Lombardi retraces changes in marriage practices in Europe and the decisive role played by Catholicism and Protestantism from the late Middle Ages to the start of the early modern period. She emphasizes the importance of reputation as constructed by neighbours' judgments; reputation could play an important role in lawsuits, which often concerned woman; specifically their honour and respectability (which encompassed that of the family) at the time of marriage.

Guido Alfani highlights "the divergence in social structures and social behaviours" created by the eleventh-century schism between Catholicism and Orthodoxy and later by the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation followed [End Page 174] by the seventeenth-century Counter-Reformation. This long-term perspective enables us to see how the role of spiritual kinship evolved within each religious community. And because godparenthood is a freely chosen tie between individuals and families, it could play a major social and economic role in family strategies. This in turn meant that the religious authorities were at pains to frame and control practices – by drastically limiting the number of godparents a child could have in the case of Catholics, for example, and seeking to abolish godparenthood in the case of Calvinism.

In the following chapter, Judit Abrus applies Laslett's categories to data from the "family books" kept by the Calvinist church in Transylvania from the second half of the nineteenth century. She follows changes in household structure over time, also questioning the relevance of that undertaking given that the residential unit did not always coincide with the unit of production or consumption, especially if other aspects, such as surface area available for farming and relations between family members, are taken into account. She also uses the family books to follow developments in such practices as cohabitation before marriage, which she identifies as a sign of weak community social control.

In the first chapter of Part 3 on family strategies, Piotr Guzowski studies Polish court rolls...


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pp. 174-176
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