A Brief History of Marriage
By Samantha Callan - Care for the Family
In the words of Professor Carol Smart, Director of the Centre for Research on Family, Kinship and Childhood at the University of Leeds, “It is time we injected a sense of history into popular and political debate on marriage and the family so that we are not always bounced into an inferential framework that assumes everything is getting worse and that if only we could recapture selected elements of the past everything would be fine again.” In this presentation (written in 2002) I will show that marriage has gone through peaks and troughs of popularity and map out the broad trends to which it has been subject. I will outline the bare essentials of marriage in this country, look at socially recognised but non-religious marriage rituals and bring in the cross-cultural dimension to broaden our understanding. Finally I will touch on historical alternatives to formal marriage and show that it has not always been an expression of social ties. Indeed other assumptions we have on the subject might also be challenged as we take a closer look at the historical record.