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«February 2018»

Fellow Seminar

22 February 2018

Dr. Katerina Dysa will present her research proposal on the topic: "Bigamy Cases in Eighteenth-Century Ukraine under Social Control of Uniate Church and Neighbors" on 22 February 2018 (Thursday) at 16:30h.


Presented talk is a part of my broader research project about control over sexual behavior in eighteenth-century Ukraine. In pre-modern Europe, sexual life of common people demanded control because in Christian framework it was an important measure of individual as well as communal morality and chances for salvation in afterlife. Rules and prohibitions concerning sexual behavior were numerous and one may wonder how could church make people obey to them or how could it control people's conduct? The control became more or less effective only in the aftermath of the Reformation when spiritual authorities (of various religious denominations) claimed support from secular authorities - first from town-courts and later from the emerging states. Since the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries secular law codes began to include sections about punishments for sexual transgressions of citizens.

In the early modern period neighborhood was a powerful social institution, and neighbors were in position to execute social control over their fellow-citizens. This way they closely cooperated with other agencies of social control, in particular with secular courts and visitation commissions, organized by Catholic and Uniate Churches. In fact, Churches in Ukraine, especially it was true about Uniate Church, were not the kind of institution that was able to control anything at all. However, in course of the eighteenth century the situation gradually changed when the practice of bishops' visitations to their parishes became regular.

Actually, the books of visitations are the main source for my analysis - as a rule these books contained the information about visits to several dozens of parishes, while description of each visit consisted of several distinct parts. The part that interested me the most was called Reformation and it enumerated cases of misbehavior, majority of which were concerned with sexual life. Out of many sexual sins that were discussed during the visitations I chose cases about bigamy for several reasons. Though bigamy was a serious sin that endangered the institute of marriage, in historiography, for some reason, it did not deserve as much scholars' attention as did other sins such as adultery and sodomy. That is why I wanted to take a closer look at this sexual transgression to understand its distinguishing features. The other reason for my interest was that while other sexual crimes/sins were represented in secular court records and visitation books more or less on the same scale, judging from secular court books, bigamy was a very marginal problem that was reported only a couple of times. Whereas in visitation books there was a substantial number of accusations of bigamy and this issue seems to be no less common than adultery. Thus handling with bigamy in visitation books is the main source of our knowledge about specificity of this sin/crime in eighteenth-century Ukraine.

In my talk I will address various aspects of bigamy and the ways employed to control it. I will refer to the following questions: In what way cases of bigamy were different from those of adultery? What were people's motives to make them get engaged in this sin/crime? What were the gender roles ascribe and in fact played by man and women in cases of bigamy? (passive women? active man?) Were there any particular strategies of avoiding being caught? What do these cases tell us about institute of marriage? About labor force migration? In what way were bigamy cases discovered? And finally, what was the punishment for bigamists? Did it really work as a way of control?

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