Sabean, David Warren

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Sabean, David Warren


Education: Houghten College, graduated; attended University of Wisconsin—Madison and Brandeis University.


Office—History Department, University of California, Los Angeles, 6265 Bunche Hall, Box 951473, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1473. E-mail[email protected].


University of East Anglia, Norwich, England, lecturer, 1966-70; University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, faculty, 1970-76; Max Planck Institute for History, Göttingen, Germany, member of research group, 1976-83; University of California, Los Angeles, professor, 1983-88, Henry J. Bruman Professor of German History, 1993—; Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, faculty, 1988-93.


American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


Guggenheim fellowship.


Landbesitz und Gesellschaft am Vorabend des Bauernkriegs: eine Studie der sozialen Verhältnisse im südlichen Oberschwaben in dem Jahren vor 1525, G. Fischer (Stuttgart, Germany), 1972.

(Editor, with Seymour Drescher and Allan Sharlin) Political Symbolism in Modern Europe: Essays in Honor of George L. Mosse, Transaction Books (New Brunswick, NJ), 1982.

(Editor, with Hans Medlick) Emotionen und materielle Interessen: sozialanthropologische und historische Beiträge zur Familienforschung, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht (Göttingen, Germany), 1984, translated as Interest and Emotion: Essays on the Study of Family and Kinship, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1984.

Power in the Blood: Popular Culture and Village Discourse in Early Modern Germany, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1984.

Property, Production, and Family in Neckarhausen, 1700-1870, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1990.

Kinship in Neckarhausen, 1700-1870, Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, NY), 1998.

Former member of editorial board of Historical Methods Newsletter (later known as Historical Methods); Peasant Studies Newsletter (later known as Peasant Studies), founder.


David Warren Sabean is a social historian and academic; much of his work in social history has focused on Neckarhausen, Germany, and the surrounding areas. With his exhaustive, in-depth studies of this subject, Sabean has not only carefully analyzed the interactions of kinship in a specific localized region of Germany, but has offered an exemplar of "guidance on how to approach analysis of a wide variety of elements implicated in the formation of village social life—property, discourse, marital relations, kinship, reciprocity," remarked Karl Wegert in the Canadian Journal of History.

Property, Production, and Family in Neckarhausen, 1700-1870 offers scholarly investigation and conclusions on the social and economic nature of family in the region under study. Sabean's goals here are to "ascertain whether the supposed 'web of kinship' of pre-modern times actually did shape and control everyday life; the second to show exactly how ties of kinship and affinity were used to negotiate the transition period to present less explicitly kin-based patterns," according to Elizabeth Koepping in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. The residents of Neckarhausen did not see themselves as autonomous individuals. Instead, "they assume an identity through their relations with others," Wegert noted. Among Sabean's findings is the fact that spousal conflict was rampant, with men often physically abusing their wives while intoxicated. Despite this consistent internal conflict, the family unit remained crucial. Property was assigned incredible value by the residents of Neckarhausen, and the "amount of effort expended by the young on behalf of their parents was proportional to the amount of anticipated inheritance," Wegert explained. The amount of respect that the young accorded to their elders was not based on social factors, but on economic ones, since the older villagers controlled the wealth and were in the position to pass it along to upcoming generations. "The overall thesis in the book is deceptively simple," Wegert concluded. Instead of seeing family as an evolving unit whose overall identity gradually eroded under pressures of individualism and class, the Neckarhausen studies show "strengthening of kinship ties in the face of various pressures associated with modernizing change," Wegert stated. "It is just this kind of finding which justifies local studies and makes commonplace constructs ring hollow," Wegert remarked.

With his second Neckarhausen study, Kinship in Neckarhausen, 1700-1870, Sabean "provides another powerful reminder of the value of properly-constructed microhistorical analysis for an understanding of the nature, origins and implications of events of more general historical significance," observed Neil Tranter in the English Historical Review. The book is a "massive study" that "succeeds in combining social history with a focus on social class and anthropology with a focus on kinship," commented Robert von Friedeburg in the Journal of Modern History. "It enlightens the reader about the importance of kinship for the emergence of class and for changes in gender relations associated with the changes in kinship the study maps," von Friedeburg continued. Sabean explains how kinship ties could be forged through a variety of means, both through blood relation and through social constructs such as godparentage, guardianship, and pledging. He notes how kinship served as a means of concentrating power through tightly formed networks of relatives—as persons assumed positions of power, they selected relatives to fill subordinate positions, a practice which sometimes resulted in the exclusion of wealthy and otherwise influential villagers from political power. He also identifies how changes in kinship networks in nineteenth-century Neckarhausen were the result of the changing roles of women in the community and larger world. Wegert, again writing in the Canadian Journal of History, called the book "a superb piece of scholarship, which speaks to the interests of specialists working in different disciplines with different geographical concentrations." Dennis A. Frey, writing in the Journal of Social History, called Sabean's book "powerful and thought-provoking," while von Friedeburg concluded: "No one interested in German history or in the relation of kinship and society in the past can afford to miss it."



Canadian Journal of History, December, 1992, Karl Wegert, review of Property, Production, and Family in Neckarhausen, 1700-1870, p. 561; December, 1998, Karl Wegert, review of Kinship in Neckarhausen, 1700-1870, p. 447.

English Historical Review, June, 1999, Neil Tranter, review of Kinship in Neckarhausen, 1700-1870, p. 749.

Journal of Modern History, June, 2000, Robert von Friedeburg, review of Kinship in Neckarhausen, 1700-1870, p. 554.

Journal of Social History, fall, 1999, Dennis A. Frey, review of Kinship in Neckarhausen, 1700-1870, p. 234.

Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, December, 1999, Elizabeth Koepping, review of Property, Production, and Family in Neckarhausen, 1700-1870, p. 683.


UCLA Department of History Web site, (September 9, 2006), biography of David Warren Sabean.