The Unwanted Child: The Fate of Foundlings, Orphans, and Juvenile Criminals in Early Modern Germany

The Unwanted Child: The Fate of Foundlings, Orphans, and Juvenile Criminals in Early Modern Germany


By (author) Joel F. Harrington

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  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Format: Hardback | 480 pages
  • Dimensions: 157mm x 226mm x 36mm | 794g
  • Publication date: 4 December 2009
  • Publication City/Country: Chicago, IL
  • ISBN 10: 0226317277
  • ISBN 13: 9780226317274
  • Illustrations note: 64 halftones, 9 line drawings

Product description

The baby abandoned on the doorstep is a phenomenon that has virtually disappeared from our experience, but in the early modern world, unwanted children were a very real problem for parents, government officials, and society. The "Unwanted Child" skillfully recreates sixteenth-century Nuremberg to explore what befell abandoned, neglected, abused, or delinquent children in this critical period. Joel F. Harrington tackles this question by focusing on the stories of five individuals. In vivid and poignant detail, he recounts the experiences of an unmarried mother-to-be, a roaming mercenary who drifts in and out of his children's lives, a civic leader handling the government's response to problems arising from unwanted children, a homeless teenager turned prolific thief, and orphaned twins who enter state care at the age of nine. Braiding together these compelling portraits, Harrington uncovers and analyzes the key elements that link them, including the impact of war and the vital importance of informal networks among women. From the harrowing to the inspiring, "The Unwanted Child" paints a gripping picture of life on the streets five centuries ago.

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Author information

Joel F. Harrington is assistant provost for international affairs and associate professor of history at Vanderbilt University. His books include Reordering Marriage and Society in Reformation Germany.

Review quote

Joel Harrington s wonderful new study of Nuremberg takes the story of unwanted children beyond the walls of the city s chief charitable institution designed to receive them to the families and larger society that helped determine their fates. The author deconstructs the problem of child abandonment, for example, by highlighting the various conditions that made life in the early modern city so precarious, especially for infants and children. Based on a wide variety of archival sources, the book uses the concept of the circulation of children to explore the many ways both informal and formal that family networks and institutions tried to care for unwanted children, in many cases without success. Harrington skillfully uses the biographer s and micro-historian s tools to explore five examples of the kinds of people who figured prominently in dramas that surrounded unwanted children. He moves well beyond his local case study using his findings to address such topics as infanticide, out-of wedlock pregnancy, youth delinquency, and orphanhood in cross-national European perspective. All sorts of poor children and their families from abandoned infants to teenage street children to absconding fathers and unwed mothers come alive in the pages of "The Unwanted Child." --Katherine A. Lynch, Carnegie Mellon University"