Joanne M. Ferraro, PhD

Albert W. Johnson Distinguished Professor of History Emerita
San Diego State University



(For articles and reviews, see Curriculum Vitae)

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A Cultural History of Marriage

General Editor: Joanne M. Ferraro

Bloomsbury Academic 2019/20

How have ideas of marriage evolved in Western culture? How has its influence changed, and been shaped by its social and cultural conditions?

In a work that spans 2,500 years, these ambitious questions are addressed by 52 experts, each contributing their overview of a theme applied to a period in history. The volumes describe the role of marriage, its contributions to society, and how it engages with matters of religion, law, society and love.

Individual volume editors ensure the cohesion of the whole, and to make it as easy as possible to use, chapter titles are identical across each of the volumes. This gives the choice of reading about a specific period in one of the volumes, or following a theme across history by reading the relevant chapter in each of the six.

The six volumes cover: 1. Antiquity (500 BCE - 500 CE); 2. Medieval Age (500 - 1450); 3. Renaissance and Early Modern Age (1400 - 1650) ; 4. Age of Enlightenment (1650 - 1800); 5. Age of Empire (1800 - 1920); 6. Modern Age (1920 2000+).

Themes (and chapter titles) are: Courtship and Rite; Religion, State and Law; Kinship and Social Networks; the Family Economy; Love and Sex; the Breaking of Vows; and Representations of Marriage.

The page extent is approximately 1,728pp with c. 240 illustrations. Each volume opens with a series preface and an introduction, and concludes with Notes, Bibliography, List of Contributors and an Index.

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A Cultural History of Marriage in the Renaissance and Early Modern Age

Volume Editor: Joanne M. Ferraro

Bloomsbury Academic 2019/20

Why marry? The personal question is timeless. Yet the highly emotional desires of men and women during the period between 1450 and 1650 were also circumscribed by external forces that operated within a complex arena of sweeping economic, demographic, political, and religious change. The period witnessed dramatic religious reforms in the Catholic confession and the introduction of multiple Protestant denominations; the advent of the printing press; European encounters and exchange with the Americas, north Africa, and southwestern and eastern Asia; the growth of state bureaucracies; and a resurgence of ecclesiastical authority in private life. These developments, together with social, religious, and cultural attitudes, including the constructed norms of masculinity, femininity, and sexuality, impinged upon the possibility of marrying. The scholars in this volume aim to provide a comprehensive picture of current research on the cultural history of marriage for the years between 1450 and 1650 by identifying both the ideal templates for nuptial unions in prescriptive writings and artistic representation and actual practices in the spheres of courtship and marriage rites, sexual relationships, the formation of family networks, marital dissolution, and the overriding choices of individuals over the structural and cultural constraints of the time.

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Venice: History of the Floating City

A glittering, floating city on the Adriatic, Venice has captivated visitors over the centuries—for different reasons. To Crusaders, it was a pilgrim stop en route to the Holy Land; to pleasure seekers, it was a den for gambling, sexual experimentation, and other vices; to young gentlemen of fortune, it was a requisite destination on the Grand Tour. For countless artists, Venice was (and still is) a place for profound inspiration; so much so that Henry James once mused: “Your visit to Venice becomes a perpetual love affair.”

Venice: History of the Floating City by Joanne M. Ferraro is a sweeping yet intimate portrait of La Serenissima from its foundation to the present day. Having conducted research in Venice for over 30 years, historian Joanne M. Ferraro identifies the social, cultural, political, economic, and environmental forces that made it one of the most renowned cities in the world. Focusing primarily on the era of The Republic, Ferraro vividly illustrates the Asian, European, and North African exchange networks that made Venice a vibrant and ethnically diverse cultural center of the Mediterranean.

Built in an amphibious environment, Venice served as a crucial nexus connecting the Far East and northern Africa with northern Europe, and its history is filled with worldly connections. Through the trade and transport business, as well as colonization, Venice emerged as an undisputed center of power. Against such a singular backdrop of global influences, Ferraro traces four underlying aspects of the city’s development: the construction of identity, both in terms of its insularity and new encounters created by trade and immigration; the influence of multiculturalism; the preservation of social hierarchy; and last but not least, the shifting definitions of gender roles.

Furthermore, Venice’s modern history is also briefly included—in particular, the weight of tourism and the impact of environmental pollution and flooding on its sinking foundations.

Filled with maps and lush photographs (many of which taken by Ferraro herself), Venice is an incomparable guide to this peerless city. I hope you will consider the book for reviews or excerpts, and Joanne M. Ferraro for interviews, blog posts, and op-eds.


"Here is an essential book for all lovers of Venice. Dr. Ferraro writes not only with encyclopedic knowledge but with deep affection and understanding. She has taught me a lot." - John Julius Norwich, author of A History of Venice and Paradise of Cities: Venice in the 19th Century

"Summarizing recent research, Joanne Ferraro provides a masterful description of the social and cultural history of Venice, viewed here as a cosmopolitan world city, as well as the floating city of our dreams. It is the most reliable and comprehensive account of the 500-year history of Venice available for this generation of readers." - Edmund Burke III, University of California, Santa Cruz

"Joanne Ferraro's new book is the most illuminating synthetic history of Venice in two generations. She depicts a multicultural metropolis inhabited by international merchants as well as artisan heretics, rebel nuns, and feminist writers. Ferraro shows how real people rather than impersonal institutions and abstract forces made history." - Edward Muir, Northwestern University

"This is an innovative historical reconstruction of the floating city, with fresh perspectives informed by the most up-to-date scholarship. In lively and engaging prose, Ferraro recreates the rich and complex history of Venice before our eyes. Her history of the Venetian Republic will become the standard work for generations to come." - Margaret F. Rosenthal, University of Southern California

"Ferraro is a master storyteller with a rare ability to make everyday life in the lagoon city come alive, while capturing the magic of Venice within a richly textured historical context. Highly recommended reading for all students and lovers of Venice." - Patricia Fortini Brown, emeritus, Princeton University

"This is the best book written to date on the Venetian Republic...In the future, when people want to learn about Venice's history, they'll turn to this book first." -Library Journal

"rich and alluring account of the 'floating city.'" -Publishers Weekly

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Nefarious Crimes, Contested Justice Illicit Sex and Infanticide in the Republic of Venice, 1557–1789

This captivating history exposes a clandestine world of family and community secrets—incest, abortion, and infanticide—in the early modern Venetian republic. With the keen eye of a detective, Joanne M. Ferraro follows the clues in individual cases from the criminal archives of Venice and reconstructs each one as the courts would have done according to the legal theory of the day. Lawmakers relied heavily on the depositions of family members, neighbors, and others in the community to establish the veracity of the victims’ claims. Ferraro recounts this often colorful testimony, giving voice to the field workers, spinners, grocers, servants, concubines, midwives, physicians, and apothecaries who gave their evidence to the courts, sometimes shaping the outcomes of the investigations. Nefarious Crimes, Contested Justice also traces shifting attitudes toward illegitimacy and paternity from the late sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries. Both the Catholic Church and the Republic of Venice tried to enforce moral discipline and regulate sex and reproduction. Unmarried pregnant women were increasingly stigmatized for engaging in sex. Their claims for damages because of seduction or rape were largely unproven, and the priests and laymen they were involved with were often acquitted of any wrongdoing. The lack of institutional support for single motherhood and the exculpation of fathers frequently led to abortion, infant abandonment, or infant death. In uncovering these hidden sex crimes, Ferraro exposes the further abuse of women by both the men who perpetrated these illegal acts and the courts that prosecuted them.


"Ferraro opens up what has really been a hidden world . . . She reconstructs each case with often fascinating and disturbing detail. This is done so well that one frequently feels as if one is hearing the voices of the testimony and following the case as it was laid out in court."—Guido Ruggiero, author of Machiavelli in Love: Sex, Self, and Society in the Italian Renaissance and Binding Passions: Tales of Magic, Marriage and Power at the End of the Renaissance

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Marriage Wars in Late Renaissance Venice
Winner of the Helen and Howard R. Marraro
Prize 2002
Winner of the Society for the Study of Early
Modern Women Prize 2002

"In an extraordinarily important study for anyone interested in the history of marriage, Joanne Ferraro mines the richly revealing archives of Venice to analyze the 'unspoken secrets and contrived lies' of broken marriages. In a book so engaging it is hard to put down, Ferraro brings to life a colorful cast of willful and humiliated wives and of abusive and ineffectual husbands, who prove that troubles within the institution of marriage are hardly new."

-Edward Muir, Northwestern University, and author of Civic Ritual in Renaissance Venice, Mad Blood Stirring: Vendetta in Renaissance Italy, and Ritual in Early Modern Europe

This fascinating book explores stories of failed intimacies that circulated in the neighborhoods and courts of late Renaissance Venice, a city whose historical record of marital litigation is extremely rich. It captures sixteenth- and seventeenth-century individuals and authorities working either to keep the last few threads of troubled marriages from unraveling, or to untie the knots that held them together. Drawing on a wealth of previously unexamined documents-depositions, ecclesiastical inquiries, and the petitions wives and husbands presented to the Venetian Patriarchal Court to either annul their marriage vows or to live separately-Joanne Ferraro brings to life a lost world of ordinary Venetians, men and women struggling with marital conflicts against a background of religious, civil, and cultural strictures.

These strikingly detailed accounts, many animated by the first-person voices of spouses, in-laws, friends and neighbors, tell of philandering, sexual problems, domestic violence, financial pressures, and incompatibility. Ferraro allows the dramas of the court investigations to unfold as stories while developing a subtle understanding of the social contexts that influenced these strife-filled narratives. She reveals that despite the regulations of Church and state, ordinary Venetians, particularly women, had more flexibility to redirect their lives and satisfy their needs for intimacy than previously documented. This engaging book makes a significant contribution to the history of attitudes toward intimacy, domestic partnership, and marital breakup.

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Family and Public Life in Brescia, 1580-1650
The foundations of power in the Venetian State

This book focuses on the behavior of the ruling families of Brescia, a rich and strategically vital city under Venetian rule, during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century.

The first part of the book conceptualizes the civic leadership of Brescia, with a profile of its origins and a brief history of the process of aristocratization. Further, it examines the relationship between family structure and the local socio-political structures. Size, wealth, education, and marriage ties were all pivotal factors which helped determine the family's position in public life. Its strength rested ultimately on its continuity over time. Women and women's property are given careful attention. The second part places the Brescian elite within the Venetian state. Besides controlling urban political institutions, the Brescians held strong economic links with the surrounding countryside, the basis of their power, and they enjoyed ample authority in the rural communities subject to the city. This section of the book examines the different ways in which these families sought to preserve their control over local resources. It also analyzes the Brescian civic leadership's weight in public life, in relation to that of Venetian authorities, illuminating some of the important ways in which the Venetian state was knit together.

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