Jahrbücher für Geschichte Osteuropas

Im Auftrag des Leibniz-Instituts für Ost- und Südosteuropaforschung Regensburg
herausgegeben von Martin Schulze Wessel und Dietmar Neutatz

Ausgabe: 65 (2017), 4, S. 663-664

Verfasst von: Oana Sorescu-Iudean


Mikołaj Szołtysek: Rethinking East-Central Europe. Family Systems and Co-Residence in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Vol. 1: Contexts and Analyses. Vol. 2: Data Quality Assessments, Documentation, and Bibliography. Bern [usw.]: Peter Lang, 2015. XXX, 1062 S., 7 Ktn., 83 Tab., 130 Graph. = Population, Famille et Société – Population, Family, and Society, 21. ISBN: 978-3-03911-781-9.

Mikołaj Szołtysek’s work is in many ways a game-changer for historical demography, anthropology, and the history of the family. Shedding light on the specificities of families and households in historical Poland-Lithuania, based on the CEURFAMFORM database (now part of the Mosaic project), Szołtysek creates a necessary frame of reference for any future work that might seek to deal with the family and the household in historical East Central Europe. The author is one of the main founders of the Mosaic project, and has published extensively in the past decade on family systems and household arrangements in East Central Europe. He is also (along with Siegfried Gruber) one of the developers of the Patriarchy Index, a powerful and invaluable instrument for the measurement of patriarchal relations across societies and epochs.

Szołtysek argues that the understanding of family systems and living arrangements in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth is crucial within the context of region-building, as these issues constituted the very foundations upon which the spatiality of regional cultural identities (p. 3) resides. This is a claim echoed throughout historical demography, and should inform every work dealing with household arrangements, co-residence patterns, and families in historical perspective. Nevertheless, Eastern Europe has been taken to represent a monolithic case, where the same non-European patterns predominated in terms of family systems, an idealized ethnographic image of traditional peasant society, a space in-between where extended, joint households were the norm, patriarchal relations were deeply entrenched, and early marriage universal. Szołtysek’s work does away with many of these claims, and in such a manner so as to be almost impossible to contradict, without very extensive evidence to the contrary. A few remarks on the structure of the work are necessary at this point.

This is by all means an impressive volume. It would have not been of lesser impact on the several fields in which the author moves with great easiness, were it to be reduced to only its section on analysis (beginning with part 2). The first chapter sheds light on the symbolic construction of East Central Europe as a space either in-between Slavic and German influences or a geographically Eastern area with defective Western-like institutions (p. 44). More significantly, it meticulously pulls apart the translation of these empirically-dubious claims onto the territory of historical demography, a translation that was often insufficiently reflected. The author does not stop at Western scholarly viewpoints on the region, but critically reassesses the strengths and weaknesses of the marginalized discourses from the region itself. What the author aims at is to provide a much more nuanced geography of family patterns, while being sensitive to demographic underpinnings (p. 109). Further chapters discuss the construction, scope, and content of the CEUFAMFORM database – based on almost 1000 micro-censuses of Polish-Lithuanian localities, most of which date from the latter half of the 18th century. This section, as the author acknowledges, might be of less interest to some readers, but can easily serve as a reference frame for any study that intends to explain the methodological framework behind the selection of certain sources. The rigorous testing applied to ascertain the representativeness of the chosen regions – aggregated into four clusters for ease of analysis, but often discussed at micro-level when necessary – should be a model for researchers seeking to build a strong case for the representativeness of their data. It should be noted that the households included in the study are exclusively rural, in order to ensure homogeneity in terms of social, environmental, and cultural factors (p. 146). A further chapter documents the major contours and gradients of socio-economic and environmental variability (p. 174) that could have left their mark on family systems and co-residence, examining the manorial system, demographic parameters, landowning and inheritance patterns, etc. Finally, these are reduced to a heuristic device of six major factors whose influence can be quantitatively disentangled from the results of the analysis. Chapters four and five are dedicated to the novel methods employed for this region: the use of synthetic cohorts for the longitudinal analysis of cross-sectional information, and the employment of microsimulation (CAMSIM).

The second part of the first volume in turn focuses on home-leaving patterns; the life-cycle service, where findings should prompt a reconsideration of the dominant discourse on the pre-modern institution of service (p. 401); nuptiality and age at first marriage, where a clear East-West gradient in marital timing emerges; the relationship between marital timing and household formation; the structure of households and co-residence, leading into a discussion of family forms, concluding that a clear divergence of eastern Polish-Lithuanian family forms from those dominant in the West of the Commonwealth (p. 744), and that there was much more heterogeneity in East Central Europe in terms of the dissemination of joint- and stem-families than had been previously assumed.

The second volume presents the various ways in which the historical data of the micro-censuses was assessed for systematic biases and errors, such as age-heaping, under-registration of early infant mortality, etc. It can also serve as a frame of reference for how one should regard and deal critically with data stemming from historical population sources.

One of the volume’s greatest strengths is its exhaustivity, to which we cannot do justice in the present review. This is reflected in the overarching comparisons throughout the analytical chapters, where findings from Poland-Lithuania are minutely and rigorously compared to any other regions, for which such studies exist. In the relentless search for explanations that can withstand critical assessment, the author has also made explicit his thought processes, and how the contexts, methods, and classifications employed throughout the work were arrived at.

Especially revealing were his struggles with methodological innovation in the face of inconsistent and fragmentary historical sources, something which is shared by a great majority of historians-cum-demographers nowadays. This process of critical self-reflection has lead the author, among other things, to re-assess his prior works, and acknowledge where his conclusions were lacking, a praiseworthy example of extricating oneself from one’s earlier research.

The work should serve as a reference point for any researcher wishing to embark upon an analysis of family forms in East-Central and South-Eastern Europe. Its scrupulously built analysis, which leaves no potential explanatory pathway unexplored, is a refreshing departure from the norm. If this is Szołtysek’s first magnum opus, we eagerly await what may come next.

Oana Sorescu-Iudean, Regensburg

Zitierweise: Oana Sorescu-Iudean über: Mikołaj Szołtysek: Rethinking East-Central Europe. Family systems and co-residence in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Vol. 1: Contexts and analyses. Vol. 2: Data quality assessments, documentation, and bibliography. Bern [usw.]: Peter Lang, 2015. XXX, 1062 S., 7 Ktn., 83 Tab., 130 Graph. = Population, Famille et Société – Population, Family, and Society, 21. ISBN: 978-3-03911-781-9, http://www.dokumente.ios-regensburg.de/JGO/Rez/Sorescu-Iudean_Szoltysek_Rethinking_East-Central_Europe.html (Datum des Seitenbesuchs)

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