Legal archives offer extraordinary opportunities for understanding intimacies across time and space. Family and Justice in the Archives presents a series of fascinating historical essays that unpack stories of familial, domestic, and sexual intimacy from the records left behind by legal processes, providing rich new insights about family, gender, race, sex, culture, identity, and daily life.
Contributors examine the written traces left by public proceedings that occurred in legally sanctioned spaces of social regulation, from notaries’ offices to criminal and civil courtrooms to legislatures. Focusing on the past two centuries and spanning five continents, the essays explore a wide range of topics including marriage, citizenship, inheritance, indentured servitude, infanticide, juvenile justice, parental abuse, bigamy, and sex work. Mindful of the ethical questions that arise when scrutinizing the details of people’s most vulnerable moments, these authors also demonstrate how individuals navigated and sometimes challenged legal prescriptions and processes in order to address systemic imbalances of power.
Family and Justice in the Archives reveals the wealth of detail that emerges from a close reading of documents generated by legal processes in the past, offering valuable new perspectives on the complex personal lives of so-called ordinary people in former times.
Peter Gossage is a professor in the Department of History at Concordia University. Lisa Moore is a PhD candidate in the Department of History at Concordia University.