University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Department of Geography - Seminars in Cultural and Historical Geography > Popping the question: how relevant was marriage in the European past? Evidence from the Gurk valley, Carinthia, 1868 to 1938

Popping the question: how relevant was marriage in the European past? Evidence from the Gurk valley, Carinthia, 1868 to 1938

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Not everywhere in Europe can marriage be regarded as a cornerstone of the social order, or the basis around which new households are created. Michael Mitterauer illustrated back in 1977 how in eighteenth century Carinthia, Austria’s most southerly province, marriages amongst the landless poor did not necessarily result in household formation or even cohabitation. In many more cases, legal restrictions on peasant marriage resulted in children outside wedlock, either borne of a fleeting encounter or a stable relationship forbidden its ceremonial and legal legitimisation. Yet strangely, even after the Austrian state‚Äôs concern was piqued by the extremity of extra-marital fertility in some rural districts, the abolition of legal restrictions of peasant marriage in 1868 did not result in increased take-up of marriage in all parts of the monarchy. In rural Carinthia in fact, births outside wedlock continued to rise, and sustained their plateau well into the twentieth century at level of up to 90% in some parishes. What meaning does a marriage ceremony have in such circumstances where its absence was first enforced by law, and then made irrelevant by the evolution of practices of fertility, sexuality and courtship that seemed to thrive on its very absence? In this paper I explore the reasons behind the preferred option for the overwhelming majority of the population of the Gurk valley in Carinthia, prior to 1938: non-marriage.

This talk is part of the Department of Geography - Seminars in Cultural and Historical Geography series.

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