What is a ‘Family’, colonial or otherwise: further thoughts

By happy chance my first-year teaching this week was on the very question of the ‘modern family’: how we define it, what makes it distinctive etc. I thought readers might be interested in the kind of answers my first-year undergraduate students came up with to those questions. Here are their responses in the form of some attractive spider diagrams:

What is the family

In the end we essentially concluded, after much discussion, that the family is that which believes itself to be a family. As a teacher, I was rather pleased with such a conclusion, but of course that definition rubs completely against the idea of recognition that I mentioned in my earlier comment: and thus might be a particularly problematic one for historians of the colonial family.

Ultimately, however,  we really had to concede that while as historians we might like our definition to be reliant on self-perception, as people we tend to still use a roughly biological definition of family; or slightly more broadly one based upon the idea of being brought up together (which makes space for step-siblings, foster children, adopted children etc.) – and of sharing the domestic space.

Not particularly helpful for colonial families, but what of the idea of self-definition in colonial families?

Emily Manktelow

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