The Unwanted Child: The Fate of Foundlings, Orphans, and Juvenile Criminals in Early Modern Germany

Hardcover (Print)
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $20.20
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 59%)
Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (11) from $20.20   
  • New (6) from $29.94   
  • Used (5) from $20.20   


"The baby abandoned on the doorstep is a phenomenon that has virtually disappeared from our experience, but in the early modern world, unwanted children were a very real problem for parents, government officials, and society. The Unwanted Child recreates sixteenth-century Nuremberg to explore what befell abandoned, neglected, abused, or delinquent children in this critical period." Joel F. Harrington tackles this question by focusing on the stories of six individuals. He recounts the experiences of an unmarried mother-to-be, a roaming mercenary who drifts in and out of his children's lives, a civic leader handling the government's response to problems arising from unwanted children, a homeless teenager turned prolific thief, and orphaned twins who enter state care at the age of nine. Braiding together these compelling portraits, Harrington uncovers and analyzes the key elements that link them, including the impact of war and the vital importance of informal networks among women. From the harrowing to the inspiring, The Unwanted Child paints a gripping picture of life on the streets four centuries ago.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Joyce Chaplin
“Only the best kind of historian can write compellingly about the past without slipping into anachronism. In his superb analysis of unwanted children in early modern Germany, Joel Harrington assembles some truly remarkable characters—the hapless, the heroic, the deeply cherished, and the never-loved. In telling their stories, he makes a distant time seem immediate and, with great subtlety, prompts readers to consider the fates of the helpless and uncherished today.”
Katherine A. Lynch
Joel Harrington’s wonderful new study of Nuremberg takes the story of unwanted children beyond the walls of the city’s chief charitable institution designed to receive them to the families and larger society that helped determine their fates. The author deconstructs the problem of ‘child abandonment,’ for example, by highlighting the various conditions that made life in the early modern city so precarious, especially for infants and children. Based on a wide variety of archival sources, the book uses the concept of the ‘circulation of children’ to explore the many ways—both informal and formal—that family networks and institutions tried to care for unwanted children, in many cases without success. Harrington skillfully uses the biographer’s and micro-historian’s tools to explore five examples of the kinds of people who figured prominently in dramas that surrounded unwanted children. He moves well beyond his local case study using his findings to address such topics as infanticide, out-of wedlock pregnancy, youth delinquency, and orphanhood in cross-national European perspective. All sorts of poor children and their families—from abandoned infants to teenage street children to absconding fathers and unwed mothers—come alive in the pages of The Unwanted Child.”

"Harrington breaks new ground with this work on children in early modern Nuremberg. . . . [This work] mounts a rich, successful challenge to top-down historical approaches to the subject."
Journal of Modern History
“Harrington provides a fascinating examination of the problem of abandoned, orphaned, and neglected children in Nuremberg in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, offering a convincing reassessment of the impact of the Reformation on early modern child welfare.”
Sixteenth-Century Journal
“Harrington defines the subject of the book as “child circulation.” This concept is sufficiently flexible to allow a range of otherwise anachronistically defined phenomena to be examined (e.g., different forms of child abandonment; active and passive infanticides; formal, informal, forced, and voluntary fostering, etc.) and ensures that attention is paid to both institutions and individuals. While the focus of the study is the German city of Nuremberg from the 1550s to the 1670s, the author’s detailed knowledge of early modern Germany and the early modern historiography on related subjects enables him to present an analysis that has relevance to the developments across early modern Europe. . . . The Unwanted Child is thoroughly researched and the book engages the reader like a good novel. Harrington’s skillful and sensitive approach to the vast source material allows him to present an exceptional book and a series of fascinating observations. This book will benefit any early modernist and scholars who are interested in the history of childhood, youth, and the family.”
"Harrington breaks new ground with this work on children in early modern Nuremberg. . . . [This work] mounts a rich, successful challenge to top-down historical approaches to the subject."
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226317274
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 12/1/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 456
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Joel F. Harrington is professor of history and associate provost for global strategy at Vanderbilt University. His books include Reordering Marriage and Society in Reformation Germany.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Note on Usage



ONE / The Unmarried Mother

TWO / The Absconding Father

THREE / The Beleaguered Magistrate

FOUR / The Street Orphan

FIVE / The State Wards

SIX / From Micro- to Macro-: Individuals and the Big Picture

Appendix 1 / The Findelkinder Database

Appendix 2 / Known Infanticides in Nuremberg, 1384–1806

List of Abbreviations




Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)