CfP: Orphanhood in East-Central and South-Eastern Europe (18th- 20th century)

We are looking for contributions to a Special Issue of the Romanian Journal of Population Studies (EBSCO, ERIH+) focusing on the topic of Orphanhood in East-Central and South-Eastern Europe (18th -20th century). Despite excellent recent work on the orphan condition in Europe or on already classic accounts on orphans caught in the web of nation and state-building in the early 20th century, wide gaps in the narrative of orphanhood in East-Central and South-Eastern Europe still persist.

The extended period intended to be covered is meant on the one hand to highlight the long history of orphanhood and welfare, and on the other hand, to draw attention to the continuities and discontinuities between the early history of welfare programs, materialized into various institutional pension schemes for the surviving children and widows, and the early twentieth century attempts to create an overall welfare system wherein orphans were only one piece of the puzzle. Heavily intertwined with the history of childhood and that of emotions, the chronicle of orphanhood in this geographic and political space over the course of the longer durée should also help to shed light on the different ways orphaned children were envisaged, treated or mistreated, cared for or alternately abandoned by society. In connection to the history of welfare programs, one particular strand which deserves attention is the extent to which early welfare worked to perpetuate social fault lines and extend privileges, and whether the notions these were predicated on proved to be incompatible with the prerequisites of modernity. Moreover, orphans were alternately elevated into objects of great interest and as vectors of national survival during the late nineteenth century in the era, or watched with caution as visible signs of social problems that needed to be somehow handled by the modernising the state. How were these sometimes-contradictory viewpoints sublimated into contemporary press, writings, and debates? Were there are any regional or confessional disparities in terms of discourse on orphanhood, nation, and state, or did the ideal-typical figure of the orphan transcend such group distinctions? Finally, while orphanhood is generally strongly associated to poverty – as indeed poverty was oftentimes looming in the background for many orphaned children in the region – it should be noted that not all orphans faced the same kinds of challenges. On the contrary, orphanhood, just like childhood, was a heavily gendered experience, depending strongly on one’s social and economic background. The search for orphans’ voices in court records (of emancipation, etc.), ego documents, and other types of tangent sources should also consider how orphans’ status (including vis-à-vis their tutors and guardians) influenced their ability to speak for themselves, their treatment and upbringing, and their possibilities later in life. While the untimely death of parents could affect any and all, the extent to which orphaned children could breach this condition and survive into well-integrated adults still remained heavily conditioned by factors beyond their control.

Keeping these matters in mind, we encourage prospective authors to submit papers touching upon one or more of the following main research directions:

  • Orphanhood and social status in East-Central and South-Eastern Europe between the 18th and 20th century
  • Changes and continuities in terms of welfare programs designed for orphans in the same area and time frame
  • Portrayals and self-portrayals of orphans in 18th-20th century press, ego-documents, court records
  • Orphans’ voices in court and the legal management of orphans’ affairs and estates
  • Orphanhood, nation and state-building, broadly regarded
  • The relationships between orphans and tutors/guardians/other authorities

Papers highlighting other aspects of the history of orphanhood in the area will also be considered.
We encourage prospective authors to submit 500-Word abstracts and a short biographical note by April 15th, 2021, to either of the three editors: Oana Sorescu-Iudean (, Luminița Dumănescu (, Ovidiu Iudean ( If accepted, full papers will need to be submitted by the 15th of July, 2021.


Image source: Az Országos Izraelita Patronage-Egyesület évi jelentése az 1911. évről. [Report of the National Israelite Patronage Association for 1911] (Budapest: Auer Nyomda, [1912], p. 12-13)