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The Catholic Historical Review 87.2 (2001) 320-321
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The Politics of Ritual Kinship:
Confraternities and Social Order in Early Modern Italy
The Politics of Ritual Kinship: Confraternities and Social Order in Early Modern Italy. Edited by Nicholas Terpstra. [Cambridge Studies in Italian History and Culture.] (New York: Cambridge University Press. 2000. Pp. xi, 317. $69.95.)
The purpose of this Cambridge series is to "stimulate scholarly debate over a range of issues which have not hitherto received, in English, the attention they deserve." By that measure, this book is a failure. With rare exception, I could not pinpoint any issue that has not received the attention it deserves (after all, only eleven years ago Christopher Black, one of the authors in the present book, published a work also with Cambridge and on the same topic), and while some Italian work is translated here, no Spanish, French, or German scholarship makes it into this volume. Further, to save five or ten pages, Cambridge University Press has produced another ugly book by aligning footnotes side by side as well as from top to bottom. Finally, credit is not given to the translator of any particular article, certainly a breach of scholarly etiquette. In short, even for libraries the $69.95 price on this book is an outrage on all counts.
All this is not to say that these articles do irreparable damage to the study of confraternities. While little new ground is broken, the authors do, with shares raised, at least plow in a straight line. Most of the work is straightforward institutional history, and it must be said that the linkage between politics and confraternities receives remarkably little attention, articles by Bernardi and Eisenbichler being notable exceptions. Several studies introduce readers to associations in particular less-studied cities like Cortona (Bornstein), Genoa (Bernardi), Rome (Esposito), etc. There are two articles on the Jesuits' new confraternities (Lazar, Lewis), two articles on women or their absence from confraternal decision-making (Fisk Rondeau, Casagrande), and a piece on the Jewish confraternity in Ferrara by Horowitz. Finally, Terpstra himself furnishes us with an article on conservatories, a genre he mistakenly thinks appears only in the sixteenth century.
The most interesting article in the collection, however, is Angelo Torre's study of the distinctions between cofrarie, disciplinati, societates, and consortie in early modern Piedmontese villages, which were so jurisdictionally fragmented as to engender these various types of associations. Armed with a clear set of arguments and ideas with which to comprehend this complex associational life in a given region, Torre's contribution stands out for its determination to tell the [End Page 320] deep truth about the lives men lived together. For the rest, I missed any spark of intellectual grace or any determination to break new ground.
Richard C. Trexler
State University of New York, Binghamton