Article Analysis



of the Articles

Article1: Routine infanticide by married couples? An assessment of baptismalrecords from seventeenth century Parma

Thearticle was authored by Laura Hynes and published in the Journal ofEarly Modern History in 2011. The purpose of this article was todetermine the sex ratio in the city of Parma. The objective of thestudy reported in the article was to determine whether marriedcouples in the region of Parma used infanticide as a procedure forbirth control as well as the regulation of the family size. Theobjective of the research was accomplished by reviewing the birthrecords covering a period of about 28 years, starting from 1609 to1637.

Theanalysis of baptismal records in a period of 28 years revealed that asuspicion that the residents of Parma city practiced infanticide wascorrect. Hynes states, “It seems logical that a proportion of themarried population resorted to infanticide throughout history,notwithstanding their absence from the criminal records” (p. 508).This trend was confirmed by the data showing that male residents inrural areas were 122 for every 100 female citizens. The higher numberof male residents compared to a lower population of females suggeststhat married couples practiced infanticide, with the objective ofreducing the number of girls in the family. This trend was associatedwith the fact that the population of residents that was more likelyto engage in infanticide found girls as an economic burden, whichmotivated them to eliminate them during infancy.

Anothertrend revealed by the study is that most of the rural and poorresidents were more likely to practice infanticide compared to urbanand rich citizens. The rural farmers suffered from poverty since theywere affected by fluctuation in prices, changes in the standard ofliving, and poor harvests.

However,people living in the urban areas of Parman preferred girls to boys.The analysis of the baptismal records indicated a shortage of1,100-1,600 males over the period of 28 years. Therefore, the urbanfamilies practiced infanticide to eliminate the boys. Thiscontradicted the previous findings indicating that families preferredboys to girls.

Evaluationof the Sources

Theauthors used the baptismal records as the primary sources of dataapplied in the study. Information about the type of primary data isapparent because the authors mentioned that they relied on baptismalrecords in order to accomplish the objectives of their research.Baptismal records were preferred because they were considered to bemore inclusive than the birth certificates. The concept ofinclusivity implies that they contained the data (including thegender and parental information) that was required to accomplish thestudy. In addition, records were preferred because the people ofTamar were predominantly Catholics, who insisted on the baptism ofinfants. Therefore, baptismal records were available for almost allinfants, who were born during the period considered in the study.Hynes also used the primary data derived from census records toconstruct the age pyramids.

Inaddition, Hynes employed empirical evidence to support the ideaspresented in the article. The scientific evidence was sourced fromthe empirical studies conducted by other scholars. For example, Hynescited the empirical research conducted by Marzion Romani to confirmthat baptismal records have been used in the past and that they arereliable sources of data needed in a research that aims to determinesex ratios.

Therefore,the article was well researched where Hynes relied on the Hanlon’smethodology to pursue its purpose. The data used in the study wereadequate to make conclusions that are credible and reliable.Moreover, the duration of 28 years, which was considered during theresearch, was adequate to determine trends that had occurred overtime.

Article2: Coping with famine: The changing demography of an Italian villagein the 1590s

Thearticle was authored by Domenico Sella and published in the SixteenthCentury Journal in the year 1991. The aim of this article was todetermine factors leading to the decline in the population in Lombardvillage, Italy. Sella argues that the European countries (includingItaly) suffered from a significant decline in the population sizewithin a period of one decade. People have suggested differentfactors that are suspected to have caused the demographic losses. Thedemographic losses occurred between 1588 and 1601.

Sellaattributed the demographic losses to social and economic hardshipsthat took place in Europe during the period. These hardships startedin 1588 when Italy experienced a severe famine that resulted in adecline in the agricultural productivity of the farms. The famineoccurred in several episodes, including 1591-1592, 1596-1597, and1600-1601. Although these episodes of famine were followed by theimportation of Baltic grain, the available foods could not meet thelocal demand. Consequently, Italy suffered from an exponentialincrease in the price of food products, deterioration in livingstandards, inflation, and demographic losses.

Scholarsagree that Malthusian crisis made a significant contribution towardsthe demographic loses in Italy, but they disagree on the mechanismsthrough which it occurred. One camp argues that the rate of mortalityincreased following the famine while the other one suggests that thefertility rate went down, resulting in a decline in the populationgrowth.

Thefindings reported in the article indicate that both arguments arecorrect, but mortality rate was not the chief cause of thedemographic losses. It is estimated that about 3,000 people died outof hunger in 1592, which is a confirmation that mortality played arole in the decline in the population size. The findings indicatedthat natality was the chief cause of the decline in the size of thepopulation in Italy as well as other European nations. It isestimated that natality resulted in a 20 % decline in the size ofpopulation in Parma as well as other parts of Italy. In Bologna, thebirth rate reduced by 30 %. These trends resulted from a deliberatedecision to reduce the family size in order to avoid thesocioeconomic challenges associated with the famine.

Evaluationof the Sources

Thetype of primary sources used in the study reported in the secondarticle was not apparent. The author mentioned the census recordsfrom time to time. This makes it possible that the primary data wasretrieved from the census records. In addition, a statement that thedeath and baptismal records were absent rules out the possibilitythat the two could have been used as the primary sources of data.Critical primary data (such as fertility ration in Table 3, maritalstatus in Table 4, and age as well as sex distribution of thepopulation) were used to make the conclusions regarding thedemographic loses experienced between 1588 and 1601.

Thecohort was another reliable source of primary data. Sella reliedextensively on the cohort findings to support the arguments reportedin the article. It is also possible that the census recordscontaining the data used in Sella`s article were recorded in thesecohort studies. For example, Sella relied on the data contained inthe cohort study conducted by Kraus J. to measure changes thatoccurred in fertility rate. The data indicated the ratio of kids agedbetween 0 and 4 years for every 1,000 women who had reached thechildbearing age.

Sellaalso relied on the findings reported by other scholars as a source ofevidence to support the ideas presented in the article. For aninstant, then author used the study findings reported by PierreChaunu to support an argument that postponing marriage was a keystrategy used in Europe as a contraceptive that resulted in asignificant decline in the population.

Thearticle was well researched since the author relived on the casestudy methodology that is preferred because of its ability to allowscholars determine a complex association between different variables.For example, the methodology allowed Sella to determine the complexassociation between natality and demographic loses that occurred inLombard village, Italy and other parts of Europe between 1588 and1601. Therefore, the methodology allowed Sella to challengetheoretical assumptions regarding the aforementioned historicalphenomenon.

Comparingthe Two Articles

Thetwo articles address similar themes, including the change indemographic aspects of the population. Hynes addressed changes in sexratios and Sella focused on the population size. The two of them hada similar logical argument that was founded on the notion thatsocioeconomic hardships force people to engage in family planningafter developing a perception that the prevailing challenges willlimit their ability to take care of many children. This logicalargument is well supported in the two articles, where the data usedto make conclusions indicates that a decrease in the size of thepopulation and residents of a given gender were directly correlatedwith the severity of the socioeconomic challenges. Therefore, theconceptual link between Hynes’ and Sella’s articles is confirmedby the fact that they established the association betweensocioeconomic challenges and changes in demographic features.


Hynesand Sella used different methodologies to study demographic changesin Italy. However, both of them focused on the impacts of thesocioeconomic problems (including those that are associated withfamine) on demography.


Hynes,L. (2011). Routine infanticide by married couples? An assessment ofbaptismal records from seventeenth century Parma. Journalof Early Modern History,15, 507-530.

Sella,D. (1991). Coping with famine: The changing demography of an Italianvillage in the 1950s. SixteenthCentury Journal,23 (2), 185-197.