A History of Working-Class Marriage

From Institution to Intimacy: Courtship, Marriage and Marriage Breakdown in Historical Perspective, c.1650 to 2000

On 12 and 13 September 2015, the History of Working-Class Marriage in Scotland research project hosted an international symposium: From Institution to Intimacy: Courtship, Marriage and Marriage Breakdown in Historical Perspective, c.1650 to 2000. The symposium brought together over a dozen international academics whose work engages with the history of emotions, courtship, marriage and marriage breakdown. Our intention was to challenge and reconceptualise our understandings of these concepts across time and space. We were delighted to welcome a panel of both established and relatively new researchers, whose papers were engaging and provoked considerable discussion which challenged our understandings and framings of intimacies and relationships historically.

The symposium was organised around the history of emotions and considered what related theoretical perspectives add to our understanding of intimate personal relationships. Our geographical focus was far-reaching and we heard papers examining themes relating to Europe, Asia, and North America, which enabled us to note some fascinating similarities and differences in how individuals and societies experienced a diverse range of emotional bonds. This wide-ranging geographical approach enabled detailed engagement with cross-regional and cross-cultural perspectives across a range of topics such as same-sex intimacies and relationships, courtship practices, contracting unions, informal relationships, marriage intimacies, bigamy and marriage breakdown. The experience of diverse ethnic groups was also explored.

The subsequent discussions prompted project members to consider how the history of working-class marriage in Scotland is situated within an international dynamic, and how working with colleagues from across the globe can offer substantially more nuanced understandings of emotions and relationships.

Part of our symposium was a Postgraduate Masterclass on the history of emotions, courtship and marriage, which attracted Masters and PhD students also currently working in this field. The opportunity to discuss their research with a panel of historical experts was greatly appreciated by all attendees, as was the opportunity to probe the minds of our panel. This session offered the chance to engage with related themes, concepts, discourses and sources, in order to better understand how the historian might skilfully navigate narratives of love, romance, courtship, and sexuality. The Masterclass was recorded, and is now available to watch here.


We would like to thank all of our attendees for their valued contributions, and the Arts & Humanities Research Council, the Australian Research Council Centre for Excellence for the History of Emotions, the Economic History Society, and the University of Glasgow for supporting this symposium.