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International Conference: Marriage’s Global Past

A conference is to be held 7-9 April 2016 at Cambridge University to launch a Special Issue of Gender & History


We are delighted to announce the programme for the upcoming conference which explores marriage's history from the medieval to the modern eras. The Mellon Fund for American History at Cambridge as well as Gender & History have generously funded it.  

Professor Laurel Thatcher Ulrich of Harvard University will offer the keynote address. Our presenters hail from all over the globe and will present scholarship that ranges from marriage between the unfree in ninth-century Europe to polygamy in nineteenth-century Fiji to practices of same-sex marriage in the twentieth-century United States.   

The focus is on the role of gender in the construction and reconstruction of marriage. Also central is the interrogation of the relationship of marriage to forms of power: the authority of state, religious, and cultural institutions as well as the complicated dynamics of status and coercion within households. Of particular interest are the interplay of what constitutes “traditional marriage" with ideas about religion, race, slavery, and colonialism.


Marriage’s Global Past

Conference Schedule

Robinson College, Cambridge University

Generously co-sponsored by Gender & History and the Mellon Fund for
American History, Cambridge University

Thursday 7 April 2016

2:00-2:15 Welcome by the Co-Organizers (Sara McDougall, John Jay College, CUNY, and Sarah Pearsall, Cambridge University)

2:15-3:15 Keynote: Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Harvard University

3:15-3:30 Break

3:30-5:00 Panel 1: Marriage: What’s at Stake
Allison Anna Tait, University of Richmond School of Law, “Harming Marriage”

Daniel Walther, Wartburg College, “Love in the Colony: Marriage, Gender & Race in Early 20th-Century German Southwest Africa”

Chair: Amy Erickson, Cambridge

5:00-6:30 Panel 2: Marriage, Privacy, and the State

Lauren Kaminsky, Harvard University, “Marriage between Comrades: Free Love and Monogamy in the Soviet Union”

Stephen Vider, Museum of the City of New York, “‘It’s Something of a Merit Badge’: Lesbian and Gay Marriage and Romantic Adjustment in the 1950s and 60s U.S.”

Chair: Stuart Airlie, Glasgow University

Friday 8 April 2016


9:30-11 Panel 3 Ideals of Marriage, Gender, and Christianity

Elisabeth Van Houts, Cambridge University, “The portrayal of marriage in miracula”

Charlotte Walker-Said, John Jay College, “A Marriage to Renew the African Family
Past: African Christians and the Reinvention of Tradition in Interwar French

Chair: Sara McDougall, John Jay College

11-11:30 Break

11:30-1pm Panel 4 Mixed Marriages

Cecilia Cristellon, Institute for Advanced Studies Konstanz/Goethe University, “Among Sacrament, Sin and Crime: Mixed Marriages and the Roman Church in Early Modern Europe”

Deborah Hamer, Columbia University/Boston College, “Extension or Reduction of
Authority?: Dutch Trading Companies and Mixed Marriage in the Seventeenth Century”

Chair: Silvana Seidel Menchi, University of Pisa

1:00-2:00 Lunch

2-3:30 Panel 5: Marriage and Slavery

Rachel Stone, King’s College London, “From practice to theory: the marriage of the unfree in the early Middle Ages

David Stark, Grand Valley State University, “Marriage among Slaves in Eighteenth-Century Puerto Rico”

Chair: Sarah Pearsall, Cambridge

3:30-4 Break

4:00-5:30 Panel 6: Defending Plural Unions

Rena Lauer, Oregon State University, “In Defense of Bigamy: Gender, Minority Policy, and Jewish Law in Venice’s Colonial Judiciary”

Vicki Luker, Australian National University, “A political and economic necessity? Chiefly polygamy in Fiji during the 1840s and 1850s”

Chair: Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Harvard University

Saturday 9 April 2016

9-10:30 Panel 7: Modernity and Marriage

Ishita Pande, Queen’s University, Canada, “Marriage Made Modern: The Colorful Prophet and the Conjugal Politics of Indian Modernity”

Jialin Christina Wu, Université catholique de Louvain and the Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, “Contested Narratives of Marriage at the “Age of Independence”: A Case Study of the Maria Hertogh Controversy in British Malaya (1950)

Chair: Joanna de Groot, University of York.

10:30-11 Break

11-12:30 Panel 8 Imposing Monogamy in Colonial Contexts

Charlotte Braillon, Faculté de droit de l’Université de Liège, “Congolese Couples and Colonial Justice: A Certain Idea of « Marriage » through the Eyes of a Colonial State”

Laura Rademaker, Australian Catholic University, “Marriage disturbances: Mission marriage, colonisation and the importance of marrying ‘straight’

Chair: Seth Archer, Cambridge

12:30-1:30 lunch

1:30-2:30 concluding discussion and closing remarks (Sara McDougall and Sarah

If you wish to register to attend this conference, please contact Kennedy Sanderson ()