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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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Introduction: Parental Attitudes toward Children



Parental Attitudes toward Children

When Aries proposed that in cultures and historical eras where a large percentage of children did not live to see their first or second birthday, parents were often indifferent to the death of a child. He states that this is an “inevitable direct consequence of the demographic situation of that time”.1 Some researchers examining familial histories have come to a similar conclusion. Yet in the last thirty years others have come to criticize this view, which at times has been based on selective data, as well as interpretations based on modern views of parent-child relationships.2 Evidence of parental attitudes toward their children is vast and diverse. For example, diaries of colonial Americans reveal deep affection for one’s children, while other evidence appears to reflect ambivalence. The widespread practice of infanticide from prehistory to the present is also indicative of the complexity of parental grief and concern.

This book aims to examine the culture of parent-child relationships, and more specifically parental concern for the child, by investigating the mortuary behavior associated with a child’s death. The scope of this book is global. Funerary behavior is observed from the Prehistoric to Modern era. The thesis of this book is not to claim that parental grief over a child’s death indicates parental concern. Rather, I seek to provide a layered perspective of the complex feelings parents demonstrated toward their children in different cultures, in different historical eras, and through...

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