In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Family and Childhood

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Collections of Papers
  • Household Structures
  • France
  • Spain
  • The Low Countries and the Swiss Confederation
  • The German Lands, Poland, and Hungary
  • Children and the Reformations
  • Jewish Childhoods
  • The Culture of Childhood
  • Childbirth and Nursing
  • Abandonment
  • Infanticide and Abortion

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


Renaissance and Reformation Family and Childhood
Margaret L. King
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 April 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0001


Scholars largely neglected the history of the family until after World War II, when they began to employ theoretical perspectives imported from the social sciences. In the 1960s, two principal figures triggered its study: Philippe Ariès, associated with the French Annales school, and Peter Laslett, cofounder at Cambridge University, England, of the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure. Since that period, studies have proliferated on the history of family and household in Europe and its subregions and on the related topics of childhood and youth.

General Overviews

Important themes of these single- or dual-authored works are the patrilineal organization of European families; the impact of high mortality rates; the variety and changeability of household structures; and the differences between urban and rural, and poor and wealthy families. Gies and Gies 1987 and Gottlieb 1993 constitute attempts to construct a unified model of the traditional family, drawing on more specialized studies. Although premature and not entirely satisfactory, they may serve as a starting point for deeper research. Casey 1989, Goody 2000, Mitterauer and Sieder 1982, and Ozment 2001 make more striking interpretive claims based on the previous considerable work of the authors. Casey 1989 traces the shift from a complex to a nuclear family; Goody 2000 links European family patterns to those of other regions of Eurasia; Mitterauer and Sieder 1982 provides a sociological model for family change; and Ozment 2001 argues for the continuity of European family forms long characterized by affective ties.

  • Casey, James. The History of the Family. Oxford: Blackwell, 1989.

    Traces the evolution throughout Europe from large interpersonal groups integrated by kinship and patronage in the late medieval and Renaissance periods to the smaller, more private domestic groups of modern times, not always agreeing with those historians (e.g., Herlihy or Macfarlane) who see the earlier emergence of nuclear units.

  • Gies, Frances, and Joseph Gies. Marriage and the Family in the Middle Ages. New York: Harper and Row, 1987.

    A popular history grounded in recent research and refreshingly clear in delineating major issues in the history of the family, anchored to illuminating narratives drawn primarily from English, French, and Italian settings.

  • Goody, Jack. The European Family: An Historico-anthropological Essay. Oxford: Blackwell, 2000.

    Essays by Goody based on earlier work but tracing in a continual thread the history of the family from Antiquity to recent times. Stresses the relationship of European family forms to those of Eurasia generally—in contrast to Africa—centered on the involvement of women in the transfer of inheritance between generations.

  • Gottlieb, Beatrice. The Family in the Western World from the Black Death to the Industrial Age. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993.

    Outlines basic features of the European family across the early modern era, including household structure, marriage and parenting, and economic activity.

  • Mitterauer, Michael, and Reinhard Sieder. The European Family: Patriarchy to Partnership from the Middle Ages to the Present. Translated by Karla Oosterveen and Manfred Hörzinger. Oxford: Blackwell, 1982.

    From the perspective of historical sociology, traces the progressive casting off of political, economic, and social functions by the family, considering the impact, especially on peasant families of central Europe, of parental mortality and retirement, the circulation of children, and the presence of resident servants and kin. English translation of Vom Patriarchat zur Partnerschaft: Zum Strukturwandel der Familie (Munich: Beck, 1977).

  • Ozment, Steven E. Ancestors: The Loving Family in Old Europe. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001.

    Drawing from mostly qualitative sources used in his own earlier work on German families as well as broader studies, Ozment argues that the European family, even in remote centuries, was an entity tightly gathered by ties of responsibility and affection.

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