Dr Julia Moses, University of Sheffield


There has been little research – and no work on Germany – on the role of legislation in defining the norms and practices pertaining to modern marriage. Nonetheless, marriage has been at the core of governmental policies targeting the social sphere. It holds the potential to define societal norms, not only delineating ‘insiders’ from ‘outsiders’, but also securing the role of the state as the final arbiter in matters related to the family.

Germany, in particular, stands as an ideal optic into these issues. After it unified in 1871, Germany stood as a multi-ethnic empire; it consisted not only of a variety of culturally disparate regions, but it also included a heterogeneous domestic population, with substantial numbers of Catholics, Protestants, Jews and Poles – as well as numerous minority groups -, in addition to a growing overseas empire with a variety of further populations to administer. Moreover, it remained marked by its pre-unification heritage, with a variety of legal traditions across the German states, each of which dealt with issues related to marriage in a unique way. In addition, as a state at the very centre of Europe, its experiences in governing marriage were directly intertwined with those of neighbouring states, through cross-border migration, the transnational discussions of experts in a variety of disciplines and international treaties – the Hague Conference in 1902, for example, addressed the question of international standards for recognising what counted as ‘marriage’. Finally, as a new country, Germany was in the midst of a process of intensive state building after national unification, and marriage was one of many issues which the state targeted in order to assert its hegemony over social and political life.

During the ECF, I would therefore examine debates about adopting the 1875 law on civil marriage – which stripped the right of churches from administering the sacrament in a way that was recognised by the state – and the everyday experiences of implementing the new policy as a case study for a broader issue: the role of – and limitations on – the state in dictating societal norms. In particular, I would focus on national debates in the public-political sphere as well as local and regional experiences with implementing the policy, examining three regional case studies as well as a number of transnational disputes that are particularly relevant for these issues. In this respect, this project speaks directly to the AHRC’s current Highlight Notice on ‘Translating Cultures’, as it examines how Germany dealt with a variety of differing practices related to marriage throughout its vast and expanding empire.

With this study, I hope to lay the groundwork for a larger project, which I will develop after the conclusion of the ECF, on the relationship between marriage and the state in Imperial Germany from the 1870s until the outbreak of the First World War. I expect the ECF will enable me to develop my new research in this important domain by allowing me to undertake a pilot project towards what I anticipate will become my second academic monograph. By allowing me to pave the way for a substantial new research project, the fellowship would therefore contribute significantly to my academic profile, establishing me more confidently in the field of modern European history.

Professionals and policy makers working on issues related to marriage law, as well as the broader public, have limited access to historical information on ideas about the role of legislation in defining the purposes and practices of marriage. I would like to increase awareness of the historical context and engage in dialogue with those currently working in professional and policy-making fields. Moreover, I would like to make my research available to a wider audience, shedding historical light on what remains a topical issue.


Dr Julia Moses

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