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A Global History of Child Death

Mortality, Burial, and Parental Attitudes

Amy J. Catalano

Drawing from primary research studies in archaeology, historical analysis, literature, and art this interdisciplinary look at the history of child funerary practices and other vehicles of parental mourning is the only book of its kind. The purpose of this work is to investigate the ways in which funerary behaviors and grieving differ between cultures and across time; from prehistory to modern history. Philippe Aries, the French childhood historian, argued that children were rarely mourned upon their deaths as child death was a frequent and expected event, especially in the Middle Ages. This book draws upon archaeological reports, secondary data analysis, and analysis of literature, photography and artwork to refute, and in some cases support, Aries’s claim. Organized in two parts, Part One begins with a chapter on the causes of childhood mortality and the steps taken to prevent it, followed by chapters on prehistory, ancient civilizations, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and the early modern and late modern eras. The chapters in Part Two discuss indicators of parental concern at a child’s death: naming practices, replacement strategy, baptism, consolation literature, and artwork. Students who focus on the psychological aspects of death, funeral practices, and childhood histories will find this book a useful and comprehensive tool for examining how children have been mourned since prehistory.
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1 A Brief History of Child Mortality

Institutionalized Children



A Brief History of Child Mortality

Infancy, like old age, was a time to die.1

Before investigating the sociological and psychological reactions of a society, and specifically parents, to the death of a child, it is helpful to frame the discussion within the matter of actual mortality among regions across time. This chapter gives an overview of conditions that existed during times, and in places, where child mortality was particularly high. This chapter does not seek to provide a complete history of child mortality. Throughout this book wherever possible I provide mortality rates, but these numbers should be accepted with caution as they can drastically change in one country within just a few decades. Social and political changes often facilitate the decrease of mortality rates and these efforts will also be discussed.

Achieving one’s fifth birthday is an extraordinary milestone in many developing countries, and is usually indicative of a life that is likely to mature to a healthy adulthood. In fact, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), the mortality of children under the age of five is the leading indicator of overall health and development of countries. At the United Nations’ 2000 Millennium Summit, 189 world leaders committed themselves to ending “extreme poverty” by 2015 by addressing eight specific Goals.2 Millennium Goal 4 calls for reducing the under-five mortality rate by two thirds between 1990 and 2015. ← 9 | 10 → The United Nations Inter-agency Group notes that substantial...

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