Lawrence Stone did not invent family history, but his landmark book The Family, Sex and Marriage 1500–1800 remains the first volume to which many students and non-specialists turn for guidance on the history of family life in England. It not only established a new sub-discipline of history in the public consciousness, it presented a coherent and deliberately provocative hypothesis regarding the character of families in the past that continues to court controversy and stimulate further research today. For all the specialist books and articles that have been published on the early modern family in the past three decades none, it is fair to say, has reached as wide an audience, or aroused the same controversy, as Stone's seminal work. This collection of new essays marks the thirtieth anniversary of its publication, and a survey of the terrain that has been charted since then, through which Stone forged a pioneering trail. The considerable volume of traffic now plying this route has led to knowledge and discussion about early modern family history assuming the characteristics of a superhighway, one that has been the site of several notable collisions. It is our purpose to provide a roadmap through the enduringly popular territory staked out by Stone, and to signpost current and future directions.
The aim of The Family, Sex and Marriage, as Stone explained to his readers, was ‘to chart and document, to analyse and explain, some massive shifts in world views and value systems that occurred in England over a period of some three hundred years, from 1500 to 1800’.
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