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Title: The historical geography of illegitimacy in the Gurk Valley, Austria, c. 1868 to 1945
Author: Sumnall, Catherine Patricia
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2011
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This thesis investigates the different kinds of extra-marital fertilities present in the Gurk valley, in the north of the province of Carinthia, in southern Austria. The parishes of this valley have a long history of high illegitimacy, partly produced by the restrictions placed on peasant marriage prior to 1868. However, the focus of this research is on ,~hy it was twenty years after the national abolition of such restrictions that illegitimate births reached their zenith in this region. In the 1890s, in the westerly parishes of the Gurl( valley, ninety per cent of all births were born outside wedlock. This figure made the Gurl( valley highly unusual in Europe in its attitudes to marriage and to fertility inside and outside institutional sanction. It was a place where extramarital births were so common as to make a reassessment of illegitimacy as a category essential. This thesis is therefore an exploration of the Gurl( valley's demographic and courtship regime, one so different to those on which the existing theorisations of alpine illegitimacy's social and historical meaning rely. A range of qualitative and quantitative methods are employed, spanning statistical analysis of parish records to narrative analysis of oral history interviews to build up a picture of the Gurk valley as a place where extra-marital fertility was embedded in social life in all strata of the community. It is argued that illegitimacy in this context should not be understood as deviant, but rather as an adaptation to local circumstance that in many cases served the interests of single mother, extra-marital child and farming household. Indeed, it was only when the gaze of the National Socialist state fell upon Austria in 1938 that illegitimacy began to be framed as a threat to the German race, in need of remedy. In earlier decades, however, births outside wedlock were far from confined to a bastardy-prone sub-society. They formed a part of the reproductive strategies undertaken by unmarried women, whether they were maids in service or the daughters of farmers, and their perdurance was aided by the evolution � of social structures that in part ameliorated the stigma associated with illegitimacy.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Illegitimacy--Austria--Gurk--History