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Covering the emotive, yet important subject of mother-child relations (including death before birth). The third event in this year’s BIG GAME #BRIHC2018 series was held in the Arts Building on the evening of 23 May.

Convened by Leslie Brubaker - the Director of the Birmingham Research Institute for History and Cultures - Entanglement explored an array of historical and anthropological approaches to the study of mother child relations, ranging widely across time and place.

Starting with the earliest time period chronologically, Simone Lacqua-O’Donnell (History) discussed her current research into how early modern Germans handled the loss of children. Drawing upon a range of examples from elite culture she showed how gender expectations shaped people’s response, the expectations of how they would respond; to the death of children.

Shifting spatially and temporally, Kate Skinner (DASA) provided an overview of an article she is currently writing that explores how Ghana’s system of child support payments came to be implemented in the 1960s. Delivering in the process a real sense of how women, children, men and families were perceived in this newly independent country. From this she drew out a range of examples that illustrated how traditional culture and expectations intersected with the political reality of the emerging Pan-African Socialist state and shaped ideas of family life.

Heading back north Karolina Kuberska (ELAL) spoke about her work with the Death Before Birth Project. Specifically, her research exploring the ways in which public institutions in the UK do and don’t mark the existence of pregnancies that fail to reach full term. As an anthropologist (albeit one working in a school of English studies) she explained what these differing ways of record keeping tell us about uncertainty about the point at which life starts in our society.

Insa Nolte (DASA) the final speaker, discussed her recent field research on Muslim-Christian intermarriage in southern Nigeria. She explained that in the region she studies marriage between Muslims and Christians is traditional and broadly accepted by both faith traditions. Typically the male partner in these unions will be Muslim whilst the woman partner will be Christian. Whilst sanctioned in theory, in practice; these mixed unions can result in tensions over religion, once children are born and start to grow up. In the course of Nolte’s research she noticed a growing tendency for Muslim clerics to decry mixed marriages on the grounds that women, especially in polygamous households; used their close relationships with their specific children to convert them from Islam to Christianity. 

The presentations were followed by a round of questions, and a thoughtful and wide ranging discussion of the issues covered that ranged from how different cultures deal with grief and loss, and how this changes over time, to other fundamental questions about the meaning of the categories of woman and mother.   

This event comprises part of the Birmingham Research Institute for History and Cultures Summer Series 2018.