38th Annual Meeting of the Social Science History Association
Customs or written laws always determined property rights, use and transmission of land and power from a generation to the following one. Over time, laws were modified. But legislative changes occurred in more or less favourable circumstances: either an old legislation was smoothly adapted to societal changes, with codifying a practice already well installed, either the State tried radically to change existing practices by imposing some new law from the top (for example a Civil Code), in order to reach some change which was not wished by the population and by families, particularly in rural societies.
Whatever their circumstances, legislative changes present a double interest for historians: in the first case of a bottom up change, we can estimate the evolution of practices and mentalities, according to the social level, in the other case, when a top down change occurred, all kind of family crises were induced and we can study how families developed specific strategies in order to solve problems, avoid worst consequences and adapt at last their practice to new legal requirements or change the law again.
In this session, we shall investigate how the evolution of the legislation has been able to affect traditional rules of family transmission and access to land property particularly when it concerned women, since their role in the devolution of both movable and real property was often quite under developed.