Botticini and Dowries

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This essay will attempt to critically analyse Botticini’s article, ‘A loveless economy? Intergenerational altruism and the marriage market in a Tuscan town’. There will be particular concentration placed upon the statistical approaches Botticini has used and the strengths and weaknesses these approaches prompt, with minor evaluation regarding the essay’s layout, structure and accessibility.

The title and Botticini’s opening comments make it clear to the reader that this will be an extraordinary essay. Botticini is an historian removed from ideas of humanism, predominantly based around the principles of cold, hard statistical fact. The opening words “A loveless economy?” are a perfect accompaniment to her writing style and candour. They instantly tell the reader that marriage and the issue of the dowry will be heavily researched and economic history will be a forerunner throughout the article. It is apparent early on that Botticini’s main aim throughout the article is to use statistical approaches and primary data to examine the roles of dowries in fifteenth century Tuscany. It is made clear that two major variables that affected the size and amount of the dowries bestowed will also be examined. These two variables relate to past altruism and the net value hypothesis. Both these variables tie in with her hypotheses investigating the idea that the more a family cares for their daughter, the bigger the dowry provided and the other hypothesis being that the net loss of a daughter benefited both the husband and previous family economically. Both these hypotheses are introduced well and although appearing to be complicated in outlook, are well described and easily identifiable.

Botticini’s hypotheses are very modern, relying on present day attitudes and understandings of economics and monetary value within family life. Obvious links are shared with the past, between modern day marriage and family relations coupled with economic marriage proposals. Botticini’s use of modern day principles in her hypotheses relate well to present day audiences but in terms of historical accuracy and relativity to the time, may differ significantly to the past as her hypotheses are estimates of what may have occurred, not what did occur. Although a recognisably vital part of statistical analysis, estimation concerns an authors’ ability to produce averages and dissect huge amounts of information. The early estimations Botticini has used rely on marriage accounts during the 15th century and it is unknown how this data has been previously manipulated. An obvious weakness of this data lies with the assumption that the marriage records only portray one religion, Catholicism. At this time in Tuscany, Catholicism was the major religion but other religions did exist and however minimal these other religious marriages were in number, they are still essential to the production of evidence relating to Botticini’s hypotheses. Botticini’s use of estimates is documented well and utilised purposefully but there are small faults within her decision making process which reduce the overall positivity of any results she may produce.

Another statistical inconsistency Botticini employs regards the evidence that a proxy has been used for the purpose of creating sets of data relating to the topic of dowries and medieval marriage. This in the context of medieval history only offers a weak link to the variables attempting to be researched. The lack of evidence is clearly obvious in this regard and although the use of a proxy is justifiable and acceptable, it is only applicable due to a serious lack of initial evidence. Proxy use is an acceptable form of statistical evaluation in this case but it is still highly regarded as troublesome and in many cases inconsistent due to the large number of variables having to be taken into account.

The theory behind Botticini’s research is not only interesting but also enlightening. The fact that the law in Tuscany at the...
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