Tidbit Tuesdays: On the Exposure and Abandonment of Children in the Past

We’ve all grown up with the assumption that at various times throughout history and back into ancient times that parents regularly left children out in the wild, exposed, and soon to be eaten by wolves or die from lack of care and local weather conditions.

In the book “The Kindness of Strangers: The Abandonment of Children in Western Europe from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance”, John Boswell makes an excellent case that the term “exposure” did not have the meaning it has today. Instead, he describes various processes of surrendering children to adoption by leaving children in designated areas in towns and cities, to be adopted by anyone who so chose. Boswell also describes various legal changes to the status and privileges of these adopted children, as well as their abuse.

As of the time of this writing, I was only able to obtain and read the 1988 edition of this book, so I do not know what revisions may have been made, if any, to the 1998 edition. I did find it to be extremely interested reading that brought up a lot of questions in my mind about the social and legal implications of adoption between now and then and how it relates to people who do abandon their children with the intent or expectation of death.

Warning: in the 1988 edition, many pages had more footnote text than actual text, which I found quite irritating and distracting to my flow of reading. I had to train myself to not even glance at the footnotes, because they disrupted the flow of the reading so badly. In fact, I can not imagine why the author did not work the fascinating information from the footnotes into the text. Regardless, I do recommend making every effort to read this book. There are certainly few, if any, like it.


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J.G. Hovey

Just another person out there in the world. Follow the author's other endeavors at: A Parent With Glass, and ALTsapiens, and G+.

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