Sex, procreation, and marriage stand as key formative events and processes in people’s lives and the social and cultural networks of which they are a part. Central aspects of human experience, their social and cultural significance and historical manifestation do not remain static, but differ with time and location, thus making them an important focus of historical and cultural investigation. Procreation and marriage were not only significant life experiences, they defined many aspects of women’s social, political, and economic importance in premodern European communities. In addition, as several of the essays here show, marriage and childbirth were liminal moments that could both reinforce the social location and status of women and at the same time subtly make apparent their potential power to disrupt or unsettle gendered social hierarchies. The rich material culture of sex, procreation, and marriage testifies to the significance of these events and provides avenues for further historical study. This material culture ranges from utilitarian objects through elite objects of material value, as well as sacred, magical and ritual objects. Even a short list of objects we’ve encountered includes apotropaic amulets; votive and devotional panels and sculptures; medical and surgical instruments and objects used during childbirth or to control procreation; textiles; and various articles of clothing and jewelry. Although the historical study of gender and sexuality in the ancient, medieval, and Renaissance worlds has happily received increasing attention over the past few decades, the range of insights available through the study of the material culture surrounding these experiences has yet to be fully explored.1


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  1. 4.
    Ellen Ross and Rayna Rapp, “Sex and Society: A Research Note from Social History and Anthropology,” in Desire: The Politics of Sexuality, ed. Ann Snitow, Chirstine Stansell, and Sharon Thompson (London: Virago Press, 1983), 107–22, esp. 107.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    Christopher Tilley, “Interpreting material culture,” in The Meanings of Things: Material Culture and Symbolic Expression, ed. Ian Hodder (London: Unwin Hyman, 1989), 185–94, here 189.Google Scholar

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© Anne L. McClanan and Karen Rosoff Encarnación 2002

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