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Female Sociability and Civic Society: Friendship and Social Control in Calvinist Geneva


About This PhD Project

Project Description

Geneva’s outstanding archival collections allow for the study of the lives and socio-cultural roles of women unrivalled outside of Italy. This study will consider how women interacted with each other, males and their roles in the wider society of the Protestant city-state republic in the century after its twin revolution and reformation. It will focus on how the state and the general male population often following the lead of other women, endeavoured to control female behaviour in interpersonal relations as well as within the familial unit. Extensive use will be made of the records of the church court (the Consistory), the criminal courts as well as notarial records (which present women at heirs, testators, merchants, landlords, etc.) and vital statistics (allowing for the reconstruction of extensive family ‘trees’/networks).
In particular, the project will focus on the period c. 1540-c. 1600 when (for the most part) Calvin and Beza led the Genevan church and, importantly, its consistory which regulated personal behaviour. However, during much of this period, the state attempted to impose, regulate, and punish activities under the rubric of an ‘innovative’ law on ‘acts tending towards fornication’. This law, largely developed and implemented in the 1550s tried to regulate activities between men and women which the state (but, more accurately, neighbours) thought were dubious and ‘likely’ to lead to worse behaviour (i.e., illicit sex). Not only did this law see the state intrude into longstanding interpersonal relations (‘we have been “chums” since we were children’) but also saw individuals approaching their neighbours to discuss their behaviour (‘we asked the syndics wife to talk to her about the relationship with that man’).
The project will, in particular, consider the extent to which these attempts to control female sociability were largely driven by other women only involving men when ‘informal’ control failed (‘I only heard about the relationship yesterday when the women told me’). By using the city’s extensive records it will be possible to examine whether underlying tensions in female-female relationships were ‘worked’ out in attempts to control behaviour. For example, it will be possible to examine situations where ‘accusers’ were involved in contractual disputes or involved in debtor relationships with ‘defendants’.
Taken together, the unrivalled quality of the records will allow for a detailed study in the latter half of the sixteenth century (where other studies can go no earlier than the eighteenth century in the same detail) on this key aspect of civic society and culture.

Applicants must have demonstrable experience with or training in early modern palaeography and French and some familiarity with early modern French is desirable.

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