Fourth open class on “Themes and problems in Social History”

On December 5, at 10 am, in room 202 of CP3 or via Zoom, the fourth open class on “Themes and problems in Social History” will take place. This fourth session is dedicated to the theme “Ageing in Portugal in the modern period” and will be hosted by Lisbeth Rodrigues from the NOVA University Lisbon.

In 2022, 10 per cent of the world’s population was aged 65 or over, a figure projected to rise to 16 per cent by 2050 (UN 2022). At a time when contemporary societies are grappling with the challenges of an ageing population, it is crucial to understand the historical context of support systems for older adults. This class aims to present and debate old age and support systems for older adults in Portugal in the modern period, adopting a comparative perspective.

The notion that ageing signifies a decline in the human condition (Minois 1989) or the existence of a “golden age of ageing” in the modern period has been challenged (Classen 2007; Botelho & Thane 2016). This has paved the way for a more inclusive perspective on support systems for older adults (Ottaway, Botelho & Kittredge, 2002). Studies show that, despite the low life expectancy in the pre-industrial era (40 years), the experience of old age varied significantly based on geography, chronology, and culture (Laslett 1991; Campbell 2017; Troyansky 2019). Moreover, there was a consistent emphasis on living as independently as possible in the final days of life (Ottaway 2009). In this vein, several studies have examined financial strategies such as savings (Clark 1982; Pelzl & Zuijderduijn 2022) or financial investments (Zuijderduijn & Overlaet 2021) as means to secure old age.

Despite the numerous studies on old age and ageing in international historiography, the contributions have focused predominantly on the North Sea region, particularly England and the Netherlands, with little attention given to Southern Europe. Within this body of literature, the impact of gender, social status, and population density on the experiences and care of older adults remains relatively unexplored.

This open class seeks not only to introduce the literature on old age and ageing in the modern period from a comparative perspective but also to highlight four interconnected levels of analysis: 1) institutional assistance for older adults, 2) family strategies to support old age, 3) the proactive measures taken by individuals to address their own old age, and, finally, 4) charitable contributions. The objective is to provide students with an overview of the (in)formal support systems for old age in an era predating the establishment of the welfare state.

[Posted: 21-11-2023]