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Rethinking East-Central Europe: family systems and co-residence in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth

Volume 1: Contexts and analyses – Volume 2: Data quality assessments, documentation, and bibliography


Mikołaj Szołtysek

This book reconstructs fundamental aspects of family organization across historical Poland-Lithuania, one of the largest political entities in early modern Europe. Using a plethora of quantitative measurements and demographic microsimulation, the author captures and elucidates the complex patterns of leaving home and life-cycle service, marriage and household formation, along with domestic group structures and living arrangements among different subpopulations of Poland-Lithuania, highlighting a variety of ways in which these patterns were nested in their respective local and regional contexts. By showing that at the end of the 18 th century at least three distinct family systems existed in the Polish-Lithuanian territories, Szołtysek challenges a number of orthodoxies in the ‘master narratives’ on the European geography of family forms of F. Le Play, J. Hajnal, P. Laslett, and their followers. Volume two of the book contains an extensive bibliography along with a thorough archival documentation of the census-like microdata used in the book, and provides detailed information on their quality and further technicalities pertaining to data analysis.
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The continuing process of European integration prompts us to ask how homogeneous or heterogeneous the experiences of people in the past were, and to search for the underlying dimensions of the ‘European identity.’ A primary focus of this treatise is the family-demographic identity of the ‘open intermediary region of East Central Europe’ (Halecki 1952, 6) and of the ‘lands between Germany and Russia,’ the characteristics of which have long been debated by scholars (Bideleux and Jeffries 1998)1.

The concept of ‘East-Central Europe’ emerged among historians and political and social scientists as a critical reaction to the usual practice of treating eastern Europe as a coherent whole to be juxtaposed with the west. This idea arose in part as a result of the geopolitical transformations following the annus mirabilis of 1989, which pushed the region toward a radical repositioning within Europe, but also because of intensified scrutiny by historians, who suggested that there was a need to redefine this area of the continent, and to break away from the simplistic dichotomy in which the ‘center’ is contrasted with the ‘periphery.’

One of the most important reasons for assigning ‘East-Central Europe’ a common regional identity was the unique co-existence and mutual influence over many years of western and Byzantine Slavic civilizations in that area. According to some scholars, the region featured particular kinds of dialogue between an occidentalized culture and a culture linked to the eastern church. Yet for others, the...

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