The Catholic University of America

History 329A: The Family in European History

This course will begin with a brief examination of family law in antiquity and the structure of the European medieval family before considering the transformation of the family in the early modern period, particularly in response to the Reformation and the rise of the nation state. Although the Renaissance is often described as the birthplace of modern individualism, the early modern period can just as easily be seen as dominated by families who employed cultural strategies to increase their collective reputation and power. The course will finish by examining the challenges to the modern European family in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. A wide range of experiences will be covered, from the family life of royalty and aristocracy to the demographic and legal evidence of everyday life in the homes of artisans and peasants. The social and economic pressures that shaped the family will be discussed, as well as debates over the emotional life of the early modern family.

Course Books

Elizabeth A. Clark, ed., St. Augustine on Marriage and Sexuality
St. John
Chrysostom, On Marriage and Family Life
Peter Abelard and Heloise, The Letters of Abelard and Heloise

Alessandra Strozzi, Selected Letters of Alessandra Strozzi

Steven Ozment, When Fathers Ruled: Family Life in Reformation Europe

Robert Kingdon, Adultery and Divorce in Calvin's Geneva

Gene Brucker, Giovanni and Lusanna: Love and Marriage in Renaissance Florence

Steven Ozment, The Bürgermeister's Daughter: Scandal in a Sixteenth-Century German
Duccio Balestracci, The Renaissance in the Fields: Family Memoirs of a Fifteenth-
Century Tuscan Peasant


There will be three papers.

The first paper will ask you to compare the views on marriage and family life of two influential church fathers: St. Augustine, who shaped the views of western Europe, and St. John Chrysostom, who was more influential in eastern Europe. How do they differ? Are there points on which they agree? How would you expect the culture of the family to differ in western and eastern Europe given the different authority of these two theologians? This paper (3-5 pages) will be due on February 11th.

For the second paper you will be given a short excerpt from a major historian, Lawrence Stone, who wrote an influential thesis on the history of the early modern family. You should evaluate his argument with reference to the primary sources we have read in class. This paper (5-7 pages) will be due on April 16th.

The final paper will be a research paper (8-10 pages) on a topic of your choice. Prior to turning in the completed paper, you will need to submit a topic (March 31st), meet with me to discuss sources, write a one-page prospectus (April 11th), and make an oral presentation of your prospectus (April 11th). The prospectus should include an explanation of the problem you are investigating, why the problem is important, the sources you will use for your research, a preliminary thesis of what you expect to argue, and an account of possible counter-arguments to your thesis and how you will rebut them. The final paper will be due on May 5th.

Each discussion section will begin with a quick quiz to encourage you to keep up with lectures and the reading. These quizzes will test the content of the lectures and reading.


First Paper: 10%
Second Paper: 20%
Final Paper: 30%
Oral Presentation: 5%
Prospectus: 5%
Quizzes: 20%
Participation: 10%


Week One: Antiquity

M (01/14): Introduction

W (01/16): Greeks and Romans

F (01/18): Discussion

Reading: Aristophanes, Lysistrata
               Juvenal, Satire VI


Week Two: Scriptures

W (01/23): Biblical Sources

F (01/25): Discussion

Reading: Selections from the Bible


Week Three: Late Antiquity

M (01/28): Monasticism and the Christian Empire

W (01/30): The Barbarians

F (02/01): Discussion

Reading: St. Augustine on Marriage and Sexuality


Week Four: The Christian East

M (02/04): The Long Schism

W (02/06): Family Life in the Byzantine Empire

F (02/08): Discussion

Reading: St. John Chrysostom, On Marriage and Family Life
               Leonora Neville, "Taxing Sophronia's Son-in-Law: Evidence of the Prominence of Women from Fiscal Records"


Week Five: The High Middle Ages

M (02/11): Scholasticism and Canon Law

W (02/13): Chivalry

F (02/15): Discussion

Reading: Abelard and Heloise, Letters, and Abelard, Historia Calamitatum


Week Six: The Renaissance

M (02/18): The Italian Renaissance

W (02/20): The European Renaissance

F (02/22): Discussion

Reading: Strozzi, Letters
               Gregorio Dati, Diary


Week Seven: Luther and the Protestant Reformation

M (02/25): The Events and Theology of the Protestant Reformation

W (02/27): Marriage, Sacraments, and Monasticism

F (02/29): Discussion

Reading: Luther, "Sermon on the Estate of Marriage"
               Luther, The Small Catechism
               Luther, To the Councilmen of All Cities in Germany
               Steven Ozment, When Fathers Ruled


Week Eight: Calvin

M (03/10): Calvin and Geneva

W (03/12): International Calvinism

F (03/14): Discussion

Reading: Kingdon, Adultery and Divorce in Calvin's Geneva


Week Nine: The Early Modern Family: Royalty

M (03/17): The Royal Household

W (03/19): Discussion

Reading: Marvick, "Louis XIII and his Doctor: On the Shifting Fortunes of Jean Héroard's Journal"
               Marvick, "The Character of Louis XIII: The Role of his Physician"
Illustrations from the journal of Héroard
               Selected letters by Liselotte von der Pfalz, Duchesse d'Orléans
               La Grande Mademoiselle, Against Marriage


Week Ten: The Early Modern Family: Aristocracy

W (03/26): Noble Families

F (03/28): Discussion

Reading: Brucker, Giovanni and Lusanna: Love and Marriage in Renaissance Florence
               Montaigne, "Of the Affection of Fathers for their Children," "The Story of Spurina," "Of Three Good Women," and "Letter to his Wife"
               Selected letters by Madame de Sévigné
               Selected letters by Lord Chesterfield to his Son


Week Eleven: The Early Modern Family: Urban Bourgeoisie

M (03/31): The Ever-Rising Bourgeoisie

W (04/02): Families Adapt to the City

F (04/04): Discussion

Reading: Ozment, The Bürgermeister's Daughter


Week Twelve: The Early Modern Family: Peasantry

M (04/07): Peasant Evidence

W (04/09): Discussion

F (04/11): Presentation of Research Paper Topics

Reading: Balestracci, The Renaissance in the Fields
               Robert Darnton, "Peasants Tell Tales: The Meaning of Mother Goose"


Week Thirteen: The Eighteenth Century

M (04/14): Sentimentalism, Companionate Marriage, and the French Revolution

F (04/18): Discussion

Reading: Rousseau, Émile (selections)
               Robert Darnton, "Readers Respond to Rousseau: The Fabrication of Romantic Sensitivity"
               Olympe de Gouges, Declaration of the Rights of Woman


Week Fourteen: The Nineteenth Century

M (04/21): Victorianism and Colonialism

W (04/23): Women's Rights

F (04/25): Discussion

Reading: Bell and Offen, eds., Women, the Family, and Freedom, Volume II, selections


Week Fifteen: The Twentieth Century

M (04/28): Communism and Fascism

W (04/30): The "Modern" Family

F (05/02): Discussion

Reading: Pius XI, Casti Connubii
               Podles, "Men and Religion: An Unhappy Marriage"
               Bell and Offen, eds., Women, the Family, and Freedom, Volume II, selections