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Kinship, Alliance and Urban Space: the Genoese 'alberghi' in the Late Middle Ages (c. 1150 - c. 1450)

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - GenALMA (Kinship, Alliance and Urban Space: the Genoese 'alberghi' in the Late Middle Ages (c. 1150 - c. 1450))

Reporting period: 2019-09-02 to 2021-09-01

GenALMA studies the developments in kinship and their relationship with, and impact on, urban space during the late Middle Ages (c. 1150-c. 1450) by rewriting the social history of Genoa. More specifically, the project traces the progress from a kinship system hinged on family alliances to the 'alberghi', i.e. confederacies gathering the members of several aristocratic families who decided to adopt a common surname and reside in closed districts.

The first part of GenALMA focuses on the changes in kinship structures among the aristocracy by reconstructing the families involved in the phenomenon of the 'alberghi'. Through a genealogical reconstruction of these kin groups it is possible to identify family strategies and shifts in the configuration of alliances; while data collected in notarial documents provides invaluable information on the configuration of family estates, on how these were managed and transmitted from one generation to the next and on changing perceptions of kinship. In this sense, the development of female patrimonial rights, which can be charted from as early as the beginning of the twelfth century, are crucial in evaluating these developments.

The second part of GeALMA aims at reconstructing the residential patterns of urban aristocratic families who gathered into an 'albergo'. Immovable property was of fundamental importance to these kin groups and this is reflected in these families’ tendency and efforts to control specific neighbourhoods. So how were immovables transmitted and managed? Did property and residential choices play a part in shaping these alliances (or vice versa) and socialising patterns and clienteles?
The research has focused mainly on Genoese notarial sources, an extraordinarily rich corpus of documents which allow for both a quantitative and qualitative analysis from as early as the mid-twelfth century. Descriptive cadastres, legal sources, and public debt registers have been analysed in order to round out data collected from notarial deeds. The data collected from the sources has been used to populate two different databases: database 1 contains genealogical data and all the information collected mainly from notarial contracts. Database 2 is more specifically related to immovable property, and gathers information on ownership, the specific location of land and buildings, and the value of real estate; such data has been used as a baseline for elaborating maps charting the residential configuration of kin groups.

Hypotheses, methodologies and results have been discussed over the course of two workshops and two conferences, while participation to other conferences, seminars and events has enabled to discuss the issues tackled in the project with students and non-specialists. Four articles have been published during the duration of the action which cover issues surrounding gender and female patrimonial rights. Two monographic issues are in preparation, as well as a first monograph which will focus on a single case study. Another monograph and further publications are foreseeable.
When addressing issues related to kinship, scholars tend to focus on the later centuries of the Middle Ages due to the paucity of sources for the period considered by GenALMA (especially the twelfth and thirteenth century). a) Thanks to the availability of an extraordinarily rich corpus of documents and extensive research, the project has enabled to reconstruct kinship patterns, orientations in the transmission and management of estates and shifts in family strategies over the long term. b) The research has also enabled to trace the developments of female patrimonial rights from as early as the mid-twelfth century highlighting how despite the drastic cutback, women could still carve for themselves a modicum of agency, and how they could prove to be central to alliances and even more so within the system of the 'alberghi'. c) Furthermore, the study of notarial documents has highlighted the importance and complexity of both dowry, which could prove to be a very flexible fund, and of non dotal assets, which could be used to implement well-pondered family strategies. d) For what concerns the management of immovables, the data collected has evidenced the importance of individual property, contrary to what historiography has so far contended, i.e. the centrality of undivided property. e) Research has also enabled to highlight the relationship between residential patterns, the development of the 'alberghi' and of other alliances and specific clienteles, shedding light on patterns of sociability in the late Middle Ages.

GenALMA, thus enhances our knowledge on mechanisms that trigger development in kinship structures, on the legal developments connected to these shifts, on the changes in the patrimonial rights of women, and on the impact that these changes had on residential strategies and therefore on the urban fabric. Especially, in assessing changes in family and in gender roles, GenALMA reflects contemporary issues and challenges which require a knowledge of the past to be properly understood and addressed in the present.
Depiction of Genoa from the 'Nuremberg Chronicle'