The Role of Wealth in Defining and Constituting Kinship Spaces from 16th to the 18th Century

Project number: P29394-G28 | Project start: 1 September 2016
Project leader: Univ.-Prof. Dr. Margareth Lanzinger
Project team members: Dr. Janine Maegraith, Mag. Johannes Kaska (since October 2017), Dr. Birgit
Heinzle (March–September 2017)
The project starts from the fact that the bulk of wealth in early modern European societies was trans-
ferred  and  acquired  via  marriage  and  inheritance.  Rights  of  inheritance  and  claims  to  inheritance
were closely linked to kinship. This, consequently, gave rise to a central axis of competition. The op-
tions to act and the way in which these options were exercised in practice depended on the models
of marital property and inheritance that were in force. The fundamental thesis of the project picks up
on this fact to surmise that wealth functioned as a significant medium via which kinship spaces were
defined and constituted. In the thematic context at issue here, kinship spaces can be defined as so-
cial spaces that are constructed via communication and interaction, via processes of negotiation, via
memory,  and  via  competition  and  conflicts.  Just  how  this  construction  and  structuring  of  kinship
spaces took place is the core issue to be investigated. In order to gain a solid impression, it is neces-
sary to analyze wealth transfers and wealth arrangements with regard to their social, economic, gen-
erational, and gender-specific implications. In this context, wealth encompasses not only real estate
and money, but also rights and claims derived therefrom as well as objects that were possible stores
of value, of symbolic significance, or of utility in everyday life.  
The project inserts itself into several fields of research that are currently widely debated: historical
kinship research, gender-historical research on marital property and inheritance practice, into mate-
rial cultural research, consumption studies and social differences, the heuristic potential of which can
be considered quite high. An initial innovative aspect of the planned project is the targeted and sys-
tematic interweaving of these fields.
The ideal laboratory in which to pursue this project’s goals is the region of southern Tirol including
today’s Trentino for several reasons: it is an area where “Romanic” and “Germanic” legal cultures
met and overlapped, and which stands out for its exceptionally high volume and density of source
material on civil-law matters (notarial registers, court books). Written law dates back to the 16 th  cen-
tury and had also precedents reaching back to the 13 th  century. The relevant documents will be cho-
sen according to defined criteria and analyzed with quantitative and qualitative methods.