Author: James C. Davis
Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press
Rise From Want explores the ways in which a family of poor peasants from the Karst plateau above Trieste, Italy, lived through the great changes brought about by industrialization and modernization. The book is a careful and imaginative reconstruction of the lives of some humble and illiterate people who left behind them few traces of their existence. Through a gripping narrative of the Žužek family, Davis explores the social changes that accompanied the peasants' "rise from want." During the Middle Ages, the first Žužeks were serfs of the lords in the nearby castle of Duino. Two centuries ago the Žužeks were freed from serfdom, but for another hundred years they continued to be poor and illiterate. In recent decades they have left the land. In each chapter Davis focuses on the ways in which the Žužeks responded to broad social changes. He looks, for example, at how the Žužeks viewed the end of serfdom, and how it affected their ability to make a living; how changes in diet, housing, and medicine reduced the number of infant deaths; how their move from farming to other kinds of work affected relations between husbands, wives and children; how they survived through World War II; and how the prosperity of the industrialized world that began in the 1950s affected their lives. And while Davis focuses on the Žužeks' reactions to these events, he puts them into a context relevant to the historical experience of millions of people. As source material, Davis used not only written sources such as castle charters, church registers, tax collectors' reports, travel diaries, and police records but also interviews with the surviving Žužeks and many elderly villagers who remembered the Karst as it was on the eve of the great changes of the twentieth century. Rise From Want will be of interest to students and scholars of history, especially those concerned with serfdom, industrialization and modernization, population change, Italy, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It will also be of interest to those who have "somewhere among their ancestors, a poor peasant or two."