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Suicide in Early Modern and Modern Europe


This is a review of recent English- and German-language publications on suicide, both as an act and a subject of discourse, in the early and late modern periods. It argues that, while publications on the theme have increased considerably in the past two decades, the problematic character of the evidence for suicide has led to a focus on attitudes to suicide at the expense of empirical investigations. The latter have largely confirmed the link between social isolation and suicide, posited by Durkheim, but have revealed differences in patterns across social groups. The growth of lenient attitudes to suicide has proven to be more protracted and contested than originally believed. The ambivalent role of clergy, the persistence of religious sanctions against suicide, and continued efforts by the state to curb suicide all suggest that the term ‘hybridization’ better characterizes the changes over this period than the older term ‘secularization’. Finally, this review recommends that historians undertake further empirical investigations of suicide, where possible, and that they broaden suicide research to include suicidal behaviours and alternative responses to despair in order to identify the specific allure of suicide.

Corresponding author
Dept of History, National University of Ireland, Galway, Ireland
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I wish to thank Simone Ameskamp and the anonymous reviewer for their comments.
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The Historical Journal
  • ISSN: 0018-246X
  • EISSN: 1469-5103
  • URL: /core/journals/historical-journal
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