The Ascoli Project

A Puglian town and its hinterland


Ascoli Satriano is a small 'city' in Puglia, located on the south-western fringes of  the Tavoliere, south Italy's largest plain. During the period 1700 - 1990 this area was subject to rapid, often turbulent economic change - from transhumant pastoralism, to large estates and later land reform.  Against this background, this project examines changes in kinship and family forms and in marriage and inheritance strategies. 

The Project

In recent years, by far the most innovative analysis of  Italian kinship and marriage systems has come from annales and micro-historians (e.g. Delille 1988, Levi 1992, Raggio 1990, Quaderni Storici 1994 Vol. 29). This project seeks to offer a new synthesis of historical and anthropological materials, using a combination of archival material and ethnographic fieldwork. Ascoli was chosen partly for its fairly manageable size (pop. 2,000 : 1700; 6,800: 1994), but more especially for the high quality of its historical records. Using these archival sources, we constructed a database linking the different types of records through individuals mentioned in the texts.

The WWW Presentation

Mainly, although not exclusively, aimed at anthropologists, this teaching package explores the main documentary research resources available to spacer historically-inclined anthropologists in the notarially rich cultures of south-west Europe. Moreover, in focusing on the  forms, time-spread, limitations and circumstances of production of these sources,  implicitly at least, it calls for a more critical and sensitive analysis, of greater time depth, than is commonly found in existing historical-anthropological studies of south Italy that, only too often, have taken historical sources too much at face value, and have over-privileged a recent, much foreshortened, past.


The first section is based upon an article on kinship and neighbourhood in 18th and 20th century Ascoli. It introduces the main types of population and property sources - State of Souls, cadastral and hearth-tax records, parish registers - and seeks to illustrate the range of information they contain, and the ways they can be used in both family and wider kinship reconstruction.

The second section focuses on changes over time in inheritance, marriage and dowry patterns and, more specifically,  seeks to illustrate how notarial contracts  can be used to document these processes.

The final two sections are more concerned with the visual and ritual representation of urban and rural space, with the rise and fall of a southern European peasant society, and with long-term agricultural and urban change.



Throughout, we have provided specimens of both original texts and rough translations of their contents. Our main aim, here, is to show that commonly asserted anthropological fears about the palaeographic difficulties associated with the use of 16th - 18th century records are greatly over-stated. The most significant problems in employing historical materials are in understanding the context and methods of their creation.

The Ascoli Project is the work of:

Continue looking at the Ascoli Project


Delille,  G. 1988 Famiglia e proprieta nel Regno di Napoli. XV-XIX secolo. Torino: Einaudi.
Levi, G. 1990: 'Family and kin - a few thoughts'. Journal of Family History, 15, 567- 578.
Raggio, O. 1990 Faide e parentele: Lo stato genovesevisto dalla Fontanabuona.
Torino: Einaudi.
Quaderni Storici 1994 Costuire la parentela. Vol. 29, 83, 2. (issue edited by R.
Ago, M. Palazzi and G. Pomata).


The materials presented in this package are derived from a much larger, ESRC sponsored, computer-aided, project (R000 234749) that was based on both archival and fieldwork research carried out between 1992 and 1996. is neither affiliated with the authors of this page nor responsible for its contents. This is a safe-cache copy of the original web site.