Whither Family History? A Road Map from Latin America

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Whither Family History? A Road Map from Latin America
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   Review Essay Whither Family History? A Road Map from Latin America NARA MILANICH F  AMILY VALUES ARE BACK  with a vengeance. As pundits pontificate and spin doctorsstrategize, historians of the family have periodically joined in the fray. Scholars haveappeared in the popular media offering historical perspectives on marriage and di- vorce, childhood, cohabitation, working mothers, child custody, and same-sex unions. The family is an institution peculiarly subject to mythification, and moreoften than not, historians have sought to set the record straight about “the way wenever were.” 1 Meanwhile, historical perspectives on the family have found their wayinto legal reasoning. In Halpern v. Canada , the landmark 2005 decision that pavedthe way for same-sex marriage in Canada, both sides marshaled historical evidencein an effort to bolster their claims. 2 Prominent historians of gender, sexuality, andthe family have also filed amicus briefs in cases involving same-sex marriage in U.S.state courts and in Lawrence v. Texas , the 2003 Supreme Court case that struck downTexas’s anti-sodomy law. 3 If family history reverberates in public discourse, its resonance in contemporary I am grateful to Thomas Abercrombie, Nancy Cott, Alyshia Galvez, Michael Grossberg, Steven Mintz,and Shobana Shankar for valuable advice, encouragement, and feedback on this essay. The commentsof the AHR editors and anonymous readers were also extraordinarily helpful. Finally, I thank audiencesat the Latin American History, Economy, and Culture Workshop at New School University, as well asthe Columbia History Department’s Faculty-Graduate Student Symposium, who read and commentedon this essay. 1 The phrase is Stephanie Coontz’s, from The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nos-talgiaTrap (NewYork,1992).Examplesofhistorians’interventionsinthepopularmediaincludeCoontz,“Historically Incorrect Canoodling,” New York Times , February 14, 2005, 21, and Coontz, “Our FamilyMyths,” Atlanta Journal-Constitution , March 26, 2006, 1MS; Steven Mintz, “A ‘Golden Age’ of Child-hood?” Christian Science Monitor  , April 28, 2005, 9; Joan Ryan, “Ignore the Rules, Spoil the Child,” San Francisco Chronicle , February 13, 2000, 1/Z1; Julian Sanchez, “Marriage Has No ‘Essence,’” ChicagoSun-Times , July 2, 2006, B3. 2  Halpern v. Canada (A.G.) [2002], O.J. No. 2714 (Ont. Div. Ct.). 3 Same-sex marriage cases in which historical briefs were filed include Goodridge v. Department of  Health (Massachusetts, 2003), Hernandez v. Robles (New York, 2005), Lewis v. Harris (New Jersey), and  Anderson v. King County (Washington). The latter two cases are currently on appeal in state supremecourts. Briefs are available at Lambda Legal’s Marriage Project, http://www.lambdalegal.org. The Law- rence v. Texas brief is available at http://hnn.us/articles/1539.html (accessed February 4, 2007). Mean- while, scholarly debates about family, childhood, and affectivity have at times spilled out of academic journals and into the popular media. See Emily Eakin, “Did Cradles Always Rock? Or Did Mom OnceNot Care?” New York Times , June 30, 2001, B7; Stephen Metcalf, “Farewell to Mini-Me: The Fightover When Childhood Began,” Slate , March 11, 2002, http://www.slate.com/?id ϭ 2062917 (accessed Feb-ruary 4, 2007); Joan Acocella, “Little People: When Did We Start Treating Children like Children?” The New Yorker  , August 18, 2003, http://www.newyorker.com/critics/books/articles/030818crbo_books?030818crbo_books (accessed February 18, 2007). 439  historical scholarship is by contrast muted. Once upon a time, in the early 1980s,historians of the family could describe the field as a “growth industry” undergoing“spectacular expansion.” 4 They could argue, as one of the field’s founders, LawrenceStone, did, that “there is scarcely any . . . major dispute about the nature of changein the past, upon which family history does not somehow impinge.” 5 Twenty-five years later, such bold assertions strike one as a bit overwrought. From “spectacularexpansion,” the field has settled into a much more modest productive rhythm. If family history has had some bearing on major historical debates in recent decades,it has not been a particularly outspoken interventor in them. From its dynamic youth,the field has lapsed prematurely into a quiet senescence.Meanwhile, among self-identified practitioners of the field, breathless enthusi-asm has given way to a certain restless frustration. In a review essay on the historyof childhood in this journal in 1998, Hugh Cunningham acknowledged the signifi-cance of Philippe Arie`s, one of the field’s founding fathers, but declared that thescholarship he inspired “has now run its course; it is time . . . to shift the agenda.”More recently, Cissie Fairchilds asserted that family history “badly needs a new in-terpretive paradigm.” “Where,” she lamented, “is the next Arie`s or Stone who will write a personal, idiosyncratic synthesis of the field which will provide one?” 6 Yet these scholars would probably agree that family history, while enervated, ishardly moribund. There is no better evidence for this than The History of the Eu- ropean Family , published by Yale University Press and edited by Brown Universityanthropologist and historian David Kertzer and University of Bologna sociologistMarzio Barbagli. 7 This three-volume work provides an opportunity to take stock of the current state of the field. A brief review of the volumes can serve as a springboardfor a broad assessment of what ails family history.Moving beyond the paths charted by European historiography, colonial and post-colonial societies heretofore marginal to family history suggest new directions forscholarship. In Latin America historically, family and kinship have been fundamentalcultural categories, central to political power and economic production, elite dom-ination and plebeian survival, honor culture, the agrarian order, labor systems, en-trepreneurship, and migration, among other social formations. 8 Latin America is,moreover, a region whose historical development has been characterized by someof the most persistent and yawning inequities of color and class in the world. Con-sidering these two features of Latin American history in tandem and examining the 4 “Growth industry”: Daniel Blake Smith, “The Study of the Family in Early America: Trends,Problems, and Prospects,” William and Mary Quarterly 39 (January 1982): 3–28, 3; “spectacular expan-sion”: Lawrence Stone, “Family History in the 1980s: Past Achievements and Future Trends,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 12, no. 1 (1981): 51–87, 51. 5 Stone, “Family History in the 1980s,” 87. 6 Hugh Cunningham, “Histories of Childhood,” AHR 103, no. 4 (October 1998): 1195–1208, 1199.Philippe Arie`s’s classic work was Centuries of Childhood (London, 1962), srcinally published in Frenchin 1960 as L’enfant et la vie familiale sous l’Ancien Re´gime . Cissie Fairchilds, “Review of  Family Life in Early Modern Times, 1500–1789 ,” Journal of Social History 37, no. 2 (Winter 2003): 523–525, 525. 7 David Kertzer and Marzio Barbagli, eds., The History of the European Family [hereafter HEF  ], 3 vols. (New Haven, Conn., 2001–2003). 8 Elizabeth A. Kuznesof and Robert Oppenheimer, “The Family and Society in Nineteenth-CenturyLatin America: An Historiographical Introduction,” Journal of Family History 10, no. 3 (Fall 1985):215–235, especially 220. On the enduring significance of family and kinship in Latin America, see Kuzne-sof, “The House, the Street, Global Society: Latin American Families and Childhood in the Twenty-FirstCentury,” Journal of Social History 38, no. 4 (Summer 2005): 859–872. 440 Nara Milanich  A  MERICAN H ISTORICAL  R EVIEW A  PRIL  2007  role of family, kinship, and household in the production and reproduction of socialdifference may pose a new agenda for family history. T   HE H   ISTORY OF THE E UROPEAN  F   AMILY  (  HEF  ) consists of three chronological volumes,containing twenty-nine essays by thirty contributors. In more than a thousand pagesof text, these scholars explore family change in Europe from 1500 to the present. Theseries is at least the sixth in what must surely qualify as a cottage industry of multi- volume histories of private life, women, childhood, and family in the West. 9 That  HEF  joins such a crowded genre raises the obvious question: what could there pos-sibly be left to say? The project is distinguished by its comparative, comprehensivethrust. For its purposes, “Europe” refers to “all the land from the Atlantic Oceanon the west to the Ural Mountains on the east, from the Arctic Sea in the north tothe Mediterranean in the south.” In a field that srcinally derived its insights fromlocalparishrecordsandvillagecensusmanuscripts,suchabroad-rangingperspectiveis no mean feat. In contrast to other multi-volume syntheses of family and privatelife, each essay seeks as comprehensive a comparative reach as possible. To facilitatethis enterprise, the volumes are purposefully organized thematically rather than bygeographic area. 10 The contributions vary widely in focus and approach, and in so doing, implicitlyraise the question, what is family history? The series gives significant weight to “clas-sic” approaches, including demographic analysis, household economics, and the re-lationship between families and macro-level economic change. 11 But other ap-proaches are also represented. Essays on material culture explore the relationshipof clothing, diet, housing, and spatial organization to family life. 12 Several contrib-utors examine changing family law and social policy. 13 Cultural history, while un- 9 Others include Georges Duby and Philippe Arie`s, eds.,  AHistoryofPrivateLife , 5 vols. (Cambridge,Mass., 1987–1991); Georges Duby and Michelle Perrot, A History of Women in the West , 5 vols. (Cam-bridge, Mass., 1992–1994); Andre´ Burguie`re et al., A History of the Family , 2 vols. (Cambridge, Mass.,1996), first published in France as Histoire de la famille (Paris, 1986); Giovanni Levi and Jean-ClaudeSchmitt, eds., A History of Young People in the West , 2 vols. (Cambridge, Mass., 1997–1999); and EgleBecchi and Dominique Julia, eds., Histoire de l’enfance en occident , 2 vols. (Paris, 1998). More recently,the European series have inspired parallel efforts in Latin America. To date, multi-volume histories of private life exist for Argentina, Brazil, and, most recently, Chile. Ricardo Cicerchia, Historia de la vida privada en la Argentina , 2 vols. (Buenos Aires, 1998–2001); Fernando A. Novais, ed., Histo´ria da vida privada no Brasil , 4 vols. (Sa˜o Paulo, 1997–1998); and Rafael Sagredo and Cristia´n Gazmuri, eds., His-toria de la vida privada en Chile , 2 vols. to date (Santiago, 2005–2006), with a third volume still to come. 10 Marzio Barbagli and David I. Kertzer, “Introduction,” HEF  1: ix–xxxii, ix. In contrast, several of the series mentioned above—  A History of Private Life and particular volumes of  A History of Women inthe West , for example—are unabashedly Franco-centric. Meanwhile, A History of the Family boasts globalcoverage but is organized by geographic or cultural unit—China, Japan, Africa, Scandinavia, the Arab world—a schema that leaves it to the reader to discern cross-cultural comparisons. Finally, the Latin American series are all squarely nation-based. 11 Karl Kaser, “Serfdom in Eastern Europe,” HEF  1: 24–62; Ulrich Pfister, “Proto-industrialization,”  HEF  1: 63–84; Pier Paolo Viazzo, “Mortality, Fertility, and Family,” HEF  1: 157–187; Ange´lique Jans-sens, “Economic Transformation, Women’s Work, and Family Life,” HEF  3: 55–110; Jay Winter, “TheEuropean Family and the Two World Wars,” HEF  3: 152–173; Theo Engelen, “A Transition Prolonged:Demographic Aspects of the European Family,” HEF  3: 273–308. 12 Raffaela Sarti, “The Material Conditions of Family Life,” HEF  1: 3–23; Martine Segalen, “Ma-terial Conditions of Family Life,” HEF  2: 3–39; Denise Lawrence-Zu´n˜iga, “Material Conditions of Fam-ily Life,” HEF  3: 3–54. 13 Lloyd Bonfield, “Developments in European Family Law,” HEF  1: 87–124; Bonfield, “EuropeanFamily Law,” HEF  2: 109–154; Paola Ronfani, “Family Law in Europe,” HEF  3: 113–151; Chiara Sara- Whither Family History? 441  A  MERICAN H ISTORICAL  R EVIEW A  PRIL  2007  derrepresented from the perspective of North American scholarly trends, also makesan appearance. 14 Finally, a number of essays are informed by anthropological andsociological perspectives. 15  Amid this diversity, one leitmotif that emerges is gradual evolution over ruptureand persistence over change. This theme informs essays on the Reformation andCounter-Reformation; material culture, parent-child relations, and marriage pat-terns in the nineteenth century; and the impact of migration on kinship networks andpeasant households. 16 If there is a watershed in European family life and structure,the essayists would probably place it in the early twentieth century. Contributionson the last hundred years place greater emphasis on change, in such contexts ashousehold structure, women’s roles, the material conditions of domestic life, and the“quiet revolution” of demographic patterns. Here the watchword is historical con- vergence: across geographic, cultural, political, and class divides, the essayists argue,families in Europe looked much more similar at the close of the twentieth centurythan they did at the dawn of the sixteenth. 17 Yet even in recent times, persistencepersists. In Eastern Europe, for example, “the geography of family structures” in1989 retraced centuries-old patterns. 18  HEF  ’s emphasis on long-running continu-ities, gradual evolution, and the endurance of family forms in the face of profoundhistorical change is an argument with older interpretive paradigms, which positeda stark contrast between “traditional” and “modern” families.The continuity leitmotif also has implications for more recent historiographictrends. Much of this scholarship has examined top-down projects to regulate andreform family, gender, and sexuality. The HEF  essayists, however, tend to argue thatsuch efforts have limited impact on family behavior. As Alain Blum asks in “SocialistFamilies?,” an essay whose title is pointedly interrogative, “to what extent does thepolitical decision to transform the foundations of society . . . actually modify theforms that families take . . . ?” His answer, for the case of twentieth-century EasternEurope, is very little. Insofar as political attempts to alter families “did not have anygenuine impact on deep-seated behavior patterns,” there is no such thing as a “so-cialist family.” Other contributors reach parallel conclusions about the limits of bourgeois attempts to engineer working-class family norms and about the inefficacy ceno, “Social and Family Policy,” HEF  3: 238–269. These contributors tend to emphasize the contentof law and policy rather than their social effects. An exception is Rachel Fuchs’s essay on charity in thenineteenth century, which explores how families engaged with welfare initiatives; “Charity and Welfare,”  HEF  2: 155–194. 14 In a particularly insightful essay, Mary Jo Maynes explores bourgeois constructions of domesticity,family, and gender roles, arguing that “the highly charged processes of dissemination across social andspatial boundaries of competing models of family life and household are a central component of nine-teenth-century family history”; “Class Cultures and Images of Proper Family Life,” HEF  2: 195–226, 196. 15 Georges Augustins, “The Perpetuation of Families and the Molding of Personal Destinies,” HEF  2: 322–347; Franc¸ois de Singly and Vincenzo Cicchelli, “Contemporary Families: Social Reproductionand Personal Fulfillment,” HEF  3: 311–349; Engelen, “A Transition Prolonged.” 16 Jeffrey R. Watt, “The Impact of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation,” HEF  1: 125–154;Segalen, “Material Conditions of Family Life,” 5; Loftur Guttormsson, “Parent-Child Relations,” HEF  2: 251–281; Josef Ehmer, “Marriage,” HEF  2: 282–321; Caroline Brettell, “Migration,” HEF  2: 229–247. 17 This is true of household structure, fertility and mortality patterns, marriage behavior, gender andgenerational power dynamics, as well as family law, housing, and domestic environments. Marzio Bar-bagli and David I. Kertzer, “Introduction,” HEF  3: xi–xliv, xxxvii–xliv; Ronfani, “Family Law in Europe,”especially 113; Lawrence-Zu´n˜iga, “Material Conditions of Family Life,” especially 30. 18  Alain Blum, “Socialist Families?” HEF  3: 198–237, 220. 442 Nara Milanich  A  MERICAN H ISTORICAL  R EVIEW A  PRIL  2007  of the Great Dictators’ pro-natalism. Even the impact of the Protestant Reformationand the Counter-Reformation is downplayed. 19 In the end, the implicit common denominator that informs the essays of  HEF  ,and perhaps the project’s most important contribution, is a commitment to take thefamily seriously as a social institution of intrinsic importance. That may not soundlike much of a contribution, given that “family” is hardly absent from historical schol-arship at the turn of the twenty-first century. Postcolonial scholars, for example, havedirected attention to what Ann Laura Stoler has called “the domains of the inti-mate,” the realm of “sex, sentiment, domestic arrangement, and child rearing.” Yetin this approach, which is particularly concerned with the gaze of moral arbiters,family is a category of interest not on its own terms but in a narrower sense as a siteof regulation (and resistance). Such a framework is not misconstrued, but it is not,and does not seek to be, family history. As Lara Putnam has argued in her study of family and community in Caribbean Costa Rica, “practices surrounding gender, kin-ship, and sexuality at times became central to class struggle and state formation. Butit was not always so, and the legitimacy of these practices as objects of study shouldnot rest on this claim alone.” 20 The HEF  essays take the family and its internal dy-namics to be of intrinsic significance. They ask how families are affected by particularsocial, economic, demographic, or political processes, and how in turn kinship,household structures, and domestic practices mediate those processes. Implicitly,some essays also address how, in particular historical contexts, these spheres of sociallife (“family,” “society,” “economy,” “state,” “public,” “private”) are delineated inthe first place. 21 On the other hand, what HEF  has to tell us about the family is not necessarilynew. Hewing to familiar topics, the essays provide solid overviews of the demo-graphic transition, a reprise of the long-standing comparison between Eastern andWestern European family forms, and a collective rejection of older assertions aboutan abrupt transition from a “traditional” to a “modern” family. Taken as a whole,the series is more an exercise in consolidation than in advancement, of stock-takingrather than envelope-pushing. It showcases what European family historians haveaccomplished and the diversity of their efforts, but it offers few clues as to wherethe field is going. A  ND WHERE IS IT GOING ? In light of the frustrations expressed by practitioners of family history, a blunt assessment of the field’s current condition is warranted. Andalas, the diagnosis is grave. Whatever the accomplishments of the HEF  project, it 19 Ibid.,198,233;Maynes,“ClassCultures”;Lawrence-Zu´n˜iga,“MaterialConditionsofFamilyLife”;Paul Ginsborg, “The Family Politics of the Great Dictators,” HEF  3: 174–197, 189–190; Watts, “Impactof the Reformation.” 20  Ann Laura Stoler, “Tense and Tender Ties: The Politics of Comparison in North American Historyand (Post) Colonial Studies,” Journal of American History 88, no. 3 (2001): 829–865; Lara Putnam, TheCompany They Kept: Migrants and the Politics of Gender in Caribbean Costa Rica, 1870–1960 (Chapel Hill,N.C., 2002). 21 For example, David Gaunt’s exploration of the myriad ways of “reckoning blood ties and familyrelationships” in the early modern period explores the criteria used to determine who counted as kinand who did not, the language used to express these associations, and the meanings that accrued to them;“Kinship: Thin Red Lines or Thick Blue Blood,” HEF  1: 257–287. Meanwhile, Mary Jo Maynes tracesthe development of the bourgeois public/private dichotomy in “Class Cultures.” Whither Family History? 443  A  MERICAN H ISTORICAL  R EVIEW A  PRIL  2007
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