Press Releases: Historiography Edition
Harding – Hanawalt, The Ties That Bound: Peasant Families in Medieval England
Life of the peasant, the Examination of the Medieval peasant
Book Cover of The Ties That Bound
Alltagsgeshichte/Everyday Life History, Social History, Gender History
Citation for First Printing/Edition
Hanawalt, Barbara A. The ties that bound: Peasant families in medieval England. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.
Barbra Hanawalt is an expert in Medieval English history, receiving her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1970. Hanawalt taught at Indiana University and the University of Minnesota before becoming the King George III Chair of British History at Ohio State University.1 Hanawalt has published multiple books, focusing on medieval era history. Her books2 focus on everyday life and social trends of past English society. Hanawalt uses social, Gender, and everyday history to explain and dissect the lives of medieval peasants of England.3
Barbra Hanawalt’s The Ties that Bound: Peasant Families in Medieval England focuses on explain the everyday life of peasants in the english countryside and the similarities to our modern-day idea of family. Hanawalt extensively used secondary sources and coroner reports to piece together the lives and actives of all ages and sexes. Hanawalt claimed that the institution of family in the Medieval era was the basis for family in the 20th century. Hanawalt claims that the institution of family stays stable while the community around it changes. The social community of the peasant world in the fourteenth century was close knit using institutions such as laws and court systems to solve disputes. These communal systems, however, in the fifteenth century began to fade and communities became estranged. The terms family and the idea of the aristocratic household were not used among peasants of the 14th and 15th century, the roles of a member describe the placement in what would be referred to as a family. The male of the house was the holder, and his wife and children completed the initial circle. Hanawalt explains members of this immediate circle would be referred to in relation of the male such as “Emily, wife of John” or Richard, son of Paul”, this system worked for peasants linguistically in the same way that the idea of family works for us.4 The peasant class as explained by Hanawalt is not one single class and can be divided into three groups. Hanawalt referenced George Orwell’s 1984, stating that like he observed society is always split into three groups, higher, lower, middle. The higher class of peasants included those who owned lots of land, participated in government, had a larger family, and ate plentiful food. The middle class of peasants having less land relied on the aid of neighbors though could succeed and prosper if the conditions were correct. The lowest class of peasants usually only had a cottage and a few acres and were heavily dependent on the support of the community through wage labor and other means of income. The standard of living for the lower class was poor and many of the children born into the class died young.5 Peasants of the time had flexibility in choosing economic options allowing for adaption when facing differing conditions. Hanawalt explains peasants were not bound to customs or laws and could use their assets to their biggest advantage. Hanawalt states that while peasants of the Middle Ages were required to swindle and scheme to survive harsh conditions, they also experienced pleasures such as alcohol, parties, childbirth, love, and family relations. Hanawalt claims that many other historians see peasants as “boorish, unsentimental, unsociable, gossipy creatures without enough sense to keep the doors of their lineage and family shut”.6 Other historians describe the importance of community with peasant society, perceiving the traditional households as extended rather than conjugal. Hanawalt states heavily her dissatisfaction with early historians’ description of the medieval family stating that historians lack research and often are factually incorrect.7
Barbra Hanawalt uses the lens of social, gender, and Everday history to dissect the lives of medieval peasants. The point of the book is to explain the lives of peasants in immense detail using all available sources. Hanawalt examined the social foundation and gender roles of a family in the Middle Ages through coroner reports and poll tax records.8 These records show both socially how an individual lived but also economically allowing them to be placed among groups of their society. Hanawalt used teh limited information available along with research conducted by other historians to create the entire picture of life as a peasant.
Hanawalt does an impeccable job at explaining the everyday life and gender roles of Medieval peasants. She brings light to topics not thoroughly or accurately discussed such as marital experiences and activities of work and leisure among peasants. Hanawalt references past historians who researched the topic as well describing their findings and explaining either the truth or fault in their findings. Hanawalt specifically states that “I am not attacking the premise that medieval peasant families and modern families have major differences”. She then states information supporting the ideas of past historians but expanding on topics and explaining the missed information or wrongly perceived facts. Hanawalt leaves no stone unturned in explaining the roles of family in the Middle Ages.
Impact on Historiography
Hanawalt’s The Ties that Bound impacted historiography by challenging previously thought ideas of peasants in Medieval England. Hanawalt states that the institution of family among peasants in teh basis of our modern-day institution. Hanawalt uses sources to dissect the social world of the Middle Ages stretching ideas many experts have previously presented. Hanawalt explains the continuity of family from the Middle Ages to modern times. Her work shows the flexibility of families facing radical change within society and how a family in the basic unit of a society and economy.
1 “Barbra Hanawalt.” Ohio State University Department of History. https://history.osu.edu/people/hanawalt.4
2 Some of Barbra’s other work includes Growing up in Medieval London: The Experience of Childhood in History published in 1993, Of Good and Ill Repute: Gender and Social Control in Medieval England published in 1999, and The Wealth of Wives: Women, Law, and the Economy in Late Medieval London published in 2007. Hanawalt has held numerous positions across the universities she has worked at, all these positions are heads of medieval history departments of the university.
3 Hanawalt, Barbara A. The ties that bound: Peasant families in medieval England. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.
4 Hanawalt, Barbara A. The ties that bound: Peasant families in medieval England. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986. location 89 of 4998
5 Hanawalt, Barbara A. The ties that bound: Peasant families in medieval England. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986. location 107 of 4998
6 Hanawalt, Barbara A. The ties that bound: Peasant families in medieval England. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986. location 147 of 4998
7 Hanawalt, Barbara A. The ties that bound: Peasant families in medieval England. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986. location 160 of 4998.
8 Houlbrooke, R. A. “Hanawalt, Barbara A.,” The Ties that Bound: Peasant Families in Medieval England”(Book Review).” Medium Ævum 57 (1988): 308.