To bring together scholars who explain historical phenomena using the methods of the social sciences

Family and Demography

This network addresses the lives of individuals, households, families and population in past societies using a variety of sources.  Our network also serves to discuss and develop historical methods, historiographies and the history of science and ideas related to family and demographic history.

Per Axelsson
Umeå University, Centre for Population Studies, Sweden
Angelique Janssens
Radbout University
Joana-Maria Pujades
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

Call for papers

Dear Colleague,

The European Social Science and History Conference (ESSHC) brings together scholars interested in explaining historical phenomena using the methods of the social sciences. You are cordially invited to attend the next ESSHC, taking place in Belfast, 4-7 April 2018 at Queen's University

The Family and Demography network addresses the lives of individuals, households, families and population in past societies using a variety of sources.  Our network also serves to discuss and develop historical methods, historiographies and the history of science and ideas related to family and demographic history.

Deadline 1 May 2017: Session and paper proposals have to be sent in via the online registration form. For more information on how to propose a Session or a paper:

The list of panels that have already been proposed appears below. Please contact the panel organizer directly if you wish to submit a paper to it.

Kind regards,

The Network Chairs:

Per Axelsson, Umeå University, Sweden,

Angelique Janssens, Radbout University, The Netherlands,

Joana-Maria Pujadas-Mora, Center for Demographic Studies - Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain,

Proposed sessions

1918 Pandemic Inequalities

Pandemics are most pressing global threats to human life and economy. This session welcome papers  studying the historical, social, & biological mechanisms for unequal morbidity, mortality, fertility or long term in utero exposure responses to 1918 pandemic influenza. Transdisciplinary papers doing a syndemic evaluation of the complex mechanisms that produced the unequal responses using transnational data is especially welcomed.

Organiser: Svenn-Erik Mamelund,

Fetus and Stillborn. Handling Corpses, Registration Practices and Family Experience

What is the position of a fetus and stillborn baby in the public space and in individual families? Losing a baby during pregnancy or at birth has always been an event creating distress in the family and among relatives but also in the local community. Are stillborn babies regarded as human beings in their own right? Do they obtain the status of person and do their corpses deserve to be taken care of with same prescribed rituals as babies born alive? Do they get some kind of social visibility or recognition, for instance from the vital events registration system?

Earlier researches indicate that there were vast differences in the definition of stillbirths, in the registration of stillbirths and in funeral ceremonies of stillborn babies across time and space. This session therefore calls for papers on various aspects of stillbirths and stillbirth registration in past and present. Three main themes will be considered:

1.Handling of corpses: What were the views towards babies who died before birth? How were the corpses treated? Were they buried or incinerated? Were they buried in the domestic sphere or in a special place in the community cemetery? Were they accompanied by some kind of rituals? How did medicalization of death affect the views towards stillborn babies? Was there a difference in the handling of the corpses between hospital births and births at home? How did modernization processes and changing views towards hygiene affect views towards stillborn babies?

2. Registration practices:  When did religious and/or civil authorities begin to request registration of miscarriages and stillbirths and at what point was the collection of statistics on stillbirths made mandatory? What were the motives behind those decisions? What were the conceptions of different Christian denominations about the registration of babies that died before baptism?

3. Family experiences: Little is known about the ways families, mothers in particular, experienced these unachieved pregnancies, miscarriages or stillbirths? Are there testimonies or even biographical documentations about those events: were they traumatic or maybe considered as banal or inevitable? What were the consequences in the conjugal life, in the individual life-course or in the perception from the others (kin, social environment)? How were these experiences met by medical professions or the clergy?

Organsiers:  Ólöf  Garðarsdóttir, Email: & Vincent Gourdon,

Mortality Crises and Social Mobility

Social-economic historians and sociologists have long speculated about the impact of the major mortality crises of the past, from the Black Death to the last great plagues of the seventeenth century. Recently, research has intensified on the distributive consequences of the Black Death, as well as on the opportunities for upward social mobility that it offered. Pioneering works have suggested that this episode was able to produce a huge “tidal wave” of social promotions. We know much less about the (possible) effects on social mobility of later mortality crises, and particularly the last great plagues of the seventeenth century that, in southern Europe at least, were on a scale not incomparable to the Black Death. This session aims to push forward our knowledge of the social-economic consequences of the main mortality crises, particularly those that occurred in the preindustrial period.

Organiser: Guido Alfani,

A Forgotten Spiritual Kinship? Confirmation, Confirmands and their Confirmation Godparents (16th-21st Centuries)

In some Christian denominations, and especially Catholicism, baptism was not the only sacrament able to establish ties of spiritual kinship between individuals or families. The candidates for Confirmation, called Confirmands, were supposed to receive this sacrament from their bishop, with the spiritual help of a “sponsor”, a confirmation godparent. If theologians and religious authorities tended to consider “appropriate to emphasize the unity of the two sacraments” [baptism and confirmation] by designating as confirmation sponsor “one of the baptismal godparents” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, art. 1311), we can doubt that these recommendations were strictly followed by the populations in the past. As for baptismal godparenthood, we may think that other social and familial goals were playing a more important role when choosing the confirmation sponsor, thus creating a new spiritual kinship and a ritually recognized social relationship. Moreover the great change taking place in theological interpretation of this sacrament could influence the individual and collective uses of these spiritual ties.

This session organized by the Patrinus network aims to explore this new topic which has been dramatically underexplored until now in comparison to baptismal godparenthood. Contributions studying models of confirmation godparenthood in Europe or America and the selection of confirmation godparents, their evolution or diversity across time and space, are welcome.

Organisers: Guido Alfani,, Vincent Gourdon, &  Cristina Munno,

Understanding family systems in time and space: what we know, what we don't know and what we need to know

After several decades of research, shortage of convincing explanations for regional diversity in historical Eurasian family, co-residence and marriage patterns persists. Although it has been oftentimes argued in the course of the development of comparative family history that historical Eurasian family systems were not randomly distributed across space (Hajnal 1965, 1982; Laslett 1983; Burguière and Lebrun 1996), little effort has been taken to define appropriate contextual influences, and to embed them in a relevant theory of demographic-familial behavior (cf. De Vos/Palloni 1989). Various scholars have posited that human family behavior has been simultaneously affected by a variety of factors (economic, cultural, and demographic) which tend to combine (Viazzo 1989; Kertzer 1991; Rudolph 1992); others have described historical family and household systems as “geo-cultures:” i.e., as institutions or structures influenced by the customs, traditions, and history of a particular area (Therborn 2004). However, neither systematizing the causes of variation in a theoretically informed manner, nor their rigorous empirical assessment on a large scale has ever been undertaken. Most earlier observations were additionally subject to severe limitations: (1) the spatial coverage of data on family patterns which underlay the majority of these explanatory ventures was highly unsystematic and often problematic (e.g., Rudolph 1992; Bradley/Mendels 1978; Wall 2001; Therborn 2004); (2) knowledge on family systems covariates mostly derived either from intensive case studies, or from inquiries into small-scale subsystems (Viazzo 1989; Mitterauer 1992; Mathieu 2000), and could not be generalized across multiple settings and across time; (3) the postulated overlap between the family domain and other spheres has been assessed by means of examining the crude ecological relationships and without situating the possible causal interdependencies in a rigorous multivariate setting and taking into account behaviors of various sub-populations (Sagart 1992; Todd 2011); (4) excessive use of abstract macro-structural concepts such as “serfdom,” “feudalism,” “hide system,” or “protoindustrialization” to explain the foundations of European geography of family systems, with little attention paid to the realities on the ground (Seccombe 1992; Kaser 2000; Rudolph 1992; Mitterauer 1999; earlier Macfarlane 1981; also Todd 2011); and, finally, (5) most scholars accounted for variation in family forms through societal, ecological or cultural “superstructures”, without a prior assessment of the effects of demography on family structure and residence patterns (cf. Wachter 1978; Ruggles 1987).

The purpose of this session is to reinvent this research area by examining how regional differences in family systems could emerge, by exploring how different constellations of family patterns were related to variations in the socio-economic, ecological and cultural spheres across multiple settings and over time across the landmass of Eurasia. Potential contributors are expected to address – in one way or the other - questions of whether these patterns might stem from differences in demographic, economic, or environmental conditions; or whether they had a deeper “socio-cultural” basis, such as ethnicity, religion, or kinship/descent rules. While striving to situate family patterns within these diverse spatial circumstances a baseline conceptual framework could be utilized, in which family system variations are seen as stemming from a combined effect of (1) demographic constraints; (2) structural-functional, ecological, or institutional (coercive) adaptations, (3) the varied function of inheritance patterns and different kinship organization, (4) other residual factors (e.g. religion, language, or ethnicity). Because, as Ruggles has argued , demography alone may determine the many facets of regional family patterns, the extent to which the revealed family geography was vulnerable to the underlying demographic conditions may also be considered.

Both historical and contemporary inquiries are welcome. Interpretive case studies and larger meso- and macro-level explorations are considered equally appropriate, though a slight preference is given to papers addressing the topic in broader, regional-Eurasian, perspective. Papers attempting  to test for causal interdependencies between family/demographic and other spheres with rigorous quantitative methodologies are highly acknowledged, but heuristic-interpretative approaches are considered complimentary.

Organiser: Mikolaj Szoltysek,

Neighborhood and social and family ties

Historiography of social ties in pre-industrial societies or in the process of industrialization has long focused on family and forms of solidarity within this group. The elementary form of these ties (and their solidarities) is expressed through the household and the different forms of co-residence.

Historical demography has studied extensively, in the framework of Laslett’s perspective and its typology, the different ways of living together within the nuclear family or within the extended family. For this reason the historians have used largely censuses and the reconstitution of the families. Historians have also extensively explored another part of social relations through the study of kinship, analyzing forms of solidarity that go beyond co-residence. For that they used mainly the reconstitution of genealogies.

But, a fundamental space for social ties has been little studied: the neighborhood. It may be due to the difficulty to find the sources ad hoc. This perspective of analysis seems very promising to understand the systems of relations and solidarities in both urban and rural contexts. This involves both parents and non-relatives is likely to play a decisive role on a daily basis. Unlike the kinship described by the genealogy, which can only be a "theoretical" relationship, without actual content, the neighborhood means regular contacts in which links and solidarities can be activated. The session is opened to all proposals covering the period from Middle Age to 20th cent. This can be a historiographic reflection favoring geographical and temporal comparatism or case studies.

Organiser: Fabrice Boudjaaba,

Crisis and Family as a main incentive to migrate (15th-21th Centuries)

This session addresses the consequences of crises on migration of individuals, males and females, and families. In includes short distance and long distance patterns (including labor migration and marriage settlement on the point of arrival), as well as temporary movements.

Original crisis initiating a migration may be due to simple unfavorable demographic events affecting families, to state of war, famine, epidemics or natural catastrophizes, in the sense of Malthusian positive checks. It may be due to economic crisis inducing revolts, political unrest and other difficulties putting life of inhabitants and families in danger, lack of security, food, water, basic shelter and energy, or lack of revenues.

The objectives of the session are

1) to reach a comparative analysis for different countries and societies

2) to trace different models of strategies and behavior, within families and communities, according to family structure, age and sex of the family head, assets, social status, occupation, education and the various networks available for first help and care to migrants (family members, corporations, associations, local charities, religious congregations, welfare state relief etc.)

3) Attention will be paid to the intervention of communities and states in these matters, and to their distinct modalities of agency, to the legislation and practices (efficient or not) that existed and their evolution over time. We are particularly interested in observing their mechanisms of adaptation and of mobilization at local, national and international level, before and after state building.

Organiser: Antoinette Fauve-Chamoux,

Mothers, Daughters and Others- Female Co-habitation and Economic Collaboration

In his article ‘Economic collaboration of family members within and beyond households in English society 1600-2000’ (2010), Richard Wall discussed the presence of family links and collaboration within as well as outside the household. One of his central arguments was that a restrictive focus on the household structure will not give us sufficient information about the family links in past societies. It is the intention of this session to widen the geographic perspective of the questions raised in the article and also include additional aspects for the purpose of illuminating assistance within families and communities.

Men have been seen as producers while women and children have been defined as consumers. Therefore a widow or abandoned wife would logically be a person totally dependent on charity and poor relief. Irrespective of if women were the victims of patriarchal society and could not work, or women devoted themselves to the welfare of their family and would not work, the result would be the same. Because of lack of property and employment the loss of the breadwinner would spell disaster.  Jane Humphries has highlighted the issue that female input for communities during the industrialisation period has largely been ignored. The acceptance of female dependency as a fact by modern research must be seen as problematical. Widowhood meant for many women a need to re-structure and re-organise their lives. Where the woman lived on a farm the question arose if she should continue running it for her children or with her children. In urban areas the situation for the widow of a shopkeeper or craftsman could involve similar issues. If, however, the husband left no property the question of working outside the home could be vital for the survival of the family. The age of the widow and her children, as well as socio-economic conditions, could have important impact on the available options. The questions that are going to be raised in this presentation are:  How did the composition of widows’ and other female headed households reflect the issue of kinship co-operation. What kind of household arrangements did the widows and other women embark upon in urban areas that were different from those in a rural environment. Did widows rely more on sons than on daughters?

The session will analyze family collaboration within diverse socio-economic and geographic settings. It will discuss contributions to the family economy by children in an urban 19th century setting with paid work outside the home. It will also analyze unpaid work in a family setting and collaboration between family members, lodgers and/or neighbours. In addition the session will include questions related to female co-operation and assistance within as well as outside the kinship group.

Organizer: Beatrice Moring,

Demography, Health and Great War

The First World War had a direct impact over soldiers’ health during the conflict and afterwards. This also affected their families especially with the transmission of different diseases. Consequently, the Great War had consequences over demographic behaviors and events as births, deaths, marriages but also fertility and marital dissolution. The intention of the organizers is to first and foremost assess the impact and the perception of the diseases during war in all the states involved, and also to carry out a survey of the family in order to provide a better framework for future research. A comparative approach of the situation in different countries that participated in the conflict can be drawn.

Organisers: Helena da Silva, & Ioan Bolovan,

Disabilities, partnership and family across time and space

Historically, marriage and family were the aims of most young people. Still today, having a partner and family signify the transition into adulthood, and becoming a father or mother constitutes an important aspect of being recognized as a ‘real’ man or woman. Scholars debate whether the high likelihood of living alone or the postponement of partnership among disabled people is the result of low chances to contract a spouse or society’s inability to facilitate their everyday-life if it includes a partner and parenthood. Disabilities further tend to increase couple’s separation risks. These circumstances may have far-reaching outcomes on the social equality and well-being of disabled people and their transition into adulthood that involve issues of identity and the positioning in social life and society, but research about how disabilities shape close relationships is limited in scale. This session welcomes both quantitative and qualitative analyses that fills in some of this gap by focusing on the opportunities, experiences and consequences associated with partnership and family formation among disabled people in different time-space settings. The session further welcomes studies analyzing social media/Internet and film/TV serials to help trace personal or popular/mainstream views on disabilities, partnership and family life, and the diverse representations or rejections of such views. Possible questions to address are:

Do the possibilities to involve, and/or stay in, a partner relationship differ significantly between disabled people across time and space and compared to their non-disabled peers, and what are the consequences for those concerned?

What characterize people with disabilities who engage in a partner relationship and who is their spouse?

How is parenthood looked upon and experienced when disabilities are part of life?

How do people with disabilities think and talk about both their possibilities and actual experiences of finding a partner and form a family with?

How is partner relationships or close family ties represented in the public debate, film/TV and mass media?

Organiser: Lotta Vikström,

Crisis, pressure and adaption over generations

There is a growing body of research on the long-term health impacts of crisis events, extreme environmental shocks and poverty showing that populations carry the burden of the past. The session invites papers that study multigenerational responses to externals stressors such as climate disaster, economic dearth, famine, conflict and epidemics We would like this session to encompass a range of countries; we also welcome papers which address the experiences of indigenous populations, as well as papers examining colonial settler populations.

Organisers: Per Axelsson, & Lisa Dillon,

Measuring Populations: Political Arithmetic and census- taking processes in the European colonial settlements, 17th-20th centuries 

Censuses were a decisive instrument in the construction of modern states and modern colonialism. Following the Political Artithmetic principles in the European countries, where the measuring of population was crucial for fiscal and military pourposes, new challenges came when imperial powers needed to rely on population statistics of different and complex societies in the overseas. Not only the census-taking processes and normative framework had to be continously readapted, but also the ennumeration of the “Others” possed new questions.  Of course, what is really counted as (colonial) population is far from being neutral processes. The census categories of the European powers were social and political constructions resulting from processes negotiated between the central and local authorities, which covered different territories and realities. What apparently seems to be “neutral” actually hides various intersections between the different disciplines (such as sociology and anthropology) and social spheres.

Would all the inhabitants of a colonial settlement be “counted”, or simply the ones sharing the identity (as religion or language) of the colonizer? Was the registration of race (eg. “Europeans”, “Asians”, “Africans”) transversal among the colonizing powers? At what level religion and language were also key-determinants to classify the colonial subjects?

This session aims to discuss these questions while adressing particular key-questions, as:

1. The processes of census taking and its normative framework. A comparative approach between colonial powers.

2. Overseas population classification, statistical categories and its evolution over space and time.

3. Charting the bureaucratic network used in the production and collection of population statistical information categories

4. Assessing how these statistics responded to the needs of the colonial administration at military, fiscal and territorial levels.

Organiser: Paulo Teodoro de Matos,

Kinship and Child Mortality

Household structure and organization have become central issues in social science research mainly because both can have huge implications for social inequality. It determines who is available, who is culturally or socially held responsible, how resources within the household are allocated, and how members of the household interact with each other. However, for young children a well-functioning household is considered to be even more important because these children are totally depended on resources from the household. Moreover, in pre-modern societies young children experienced the highest chances of dying compared to other age categories. Yet, compared with other risk groups, such as elderly and widows, young children occupy an additional risky position within a household as they have absolutely no say in the division of resources. Young children are therefore seen as the most vulnerable group in a pre-modern society, one which will experience the consequences of an unequal treatment first.

Considering the importance of the availability of kin for providing care and other resources to young children, previous studies have mainly focused on household composition. Several studies demonstrate the importance of the mother for the survival of her children, while the importance of the father is much more debated and depends on household structure and historical context. In addition, other adult kin could also be able to take over some roles of deceased fathers and mothers as the concept of human cooperative breeders suggests. In general it seems that although there is much variation, at least one relative - apart from the mother - is beneficial for child survival in almost all populations. However, there is much variation in whether relatives are consistently helpful to the survival of children or not. This session therefore focuses on the influences of kinship on child mortality outcomes.

Organiser:  Tim Riswick, 


Marriage strategies of female sole inheritors

Organiser: Anna Cabre,

Effects of couples where the wife is older that the husband

Organiser: Sigfried Gruber,

Advanced paternal age and male fertility

Kai Willfuehr,

Healthy families: intergenerational transmission and clustering of health/longevity

Organiser: Rick Mourits,

Early life conditions and height

Organiser: Jan Kok,

Life course implications of height

Organsier: jan Kok,

Health & health care in port cities

Organiser: Angelique Janssens,

European Fertility Transition

Organiser: Eilidgh Garrett,