A place to live: Geographical mobility and social positionin an early modern peasant society
In recent years, the literature has made the case for high levels of mobilityin early modern Europe, including Sweden. These findings refute the traditional image of the early modern peasant society as static. Still, there were people who never moved, and lived their whole lives where they were born. By asking questions about who moved and who did not, we are ableto shed new light on living conditions and the social community in early modern peasant society.
Using two unique visitation registers as well as other sources from late seventeenth-century Västmanland, we have analysed the mobility of men, women, and children from different social strata. We find that in the parish Björskog, in the fertile lowlands of the Mälaren valley in central Sweden, most people did not live where they had been born, and in the parish Gunnilbo, a rural society dominated by the mining industry, half the population had moved on to a new area within a five-year period. Thus, there were more people looking out for new places to live than there were people who never moved.
An important finding from our study is that geographical mobilityvaried with social status and land rights. Access to land and other earning opportunities was decisive in determining people’s behaviour. Depending on social class, gender, and age, these factors varied significantly, and with them geographical mobility. While the pattern of sons inheriting farms from their fathers may have been true of certain propertied and perhaps more influential and visible peasants, early modern peasant society was far more varied than this. There were the landless, servants, civil servants,women, etcetera. The result—high but uneven mobility rates—raises the question of belonging. Who was part of the local community, and under what circumstances?
2015. Vol. 81, no 2, 71-97 p.