History 248 Reading Guide

Patriarchal Families in England and Europe

  • Frederick Engels, from The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884), in Robert C. Tucker, ed., The Marx-Engels Reader (1978), 734-751.  (e-reserve)


Engels’s 1884 text gives us an opportunity to read a text as both a historical analysis (a secondary text) and a historical text (a primary document), and to learn about the past.

  • What questions did his argument raise for you? What struck you or surprised you about his questions, his presentation of the evidence, his analysis and conclusions? Did you get stumped by any part of his argument? If so, how did you get past that?
  • How did Engels describe the evolution of the family?
  • What did he propose as the causes of change in the family (as it shifted from matrilineal to patriarchal)?
  • What evidence did he present to support his theories (and the theories of his contemporaries)?
  • What purposes did Engels' description and assessment of the evolution of marriage serve for him and his arguments about the organization of society?
  • What can we learn from this nineteenth-century analysis?