This text illustrates the main aspects which characterize the contemporary period, analysing them in a historical long perspective with background reference, and utilising, in this connection, the most recent acquisitions in historiography and the social sciences. The following subjects are examined: the relationship between society, civilisation and environment; the trend of Western populations and the relative demographic models (from the model of celibacy to late marriage in Ancient Rome, through to the contemporary model of low birth-rates); the family typology and its links with the economic-social and political-cultural context (the patriarchal family of the 16th century, the "hedonistic" family of the 18th century, the nuclear authoritarian family of the 19th century etc.); the questions of the structures and the economic transformations (agricultural economies and agricultural revolutions, proto-industries and industrialisation etc.); the different systems of social stratification and the complex relations between social groups; collective behaviour and social conflict; the character of the State and public institutions (the absolutist classical model, the national 19th century State etc.); and the forms of politics (the census-based liberalism, the birth of the modern political parties, the "new politics" of the authoritarian regimes). The first chapter introduces the reader to the characteristics of historical knowledge, going through the main points in the history of historiography, which moves from the geo-ethnological curiosity of the illuminists to the "politics" of Von Ranke, from the Economie et socit of Bloch and Febvre, up to the recent tendencies of structural history, historical anthropology, "interpretive history" etc. The text is written in a lively and colloquial style, and it is constructed on a base of ample examples, which allows the author to examine the most complex and unusual subject matter clearly and efficiently.
Contents: Introduction. - 1. The Past and Historians. - 2. The environment of history. - 3. Demographic history. - 4. The history of the family in society and culture. - 5. The economy and society. Ideologies from the 19th to the 20th century. - 6. Economic changes. - 7. Classes, professions, lifestyles. Elements of historical sociology. - 8. Collective behaviour. - 9. The State and Politics. - Bibliography.
Paolo Macry is Professor of Contemporary History at the University of Naples.