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2016 SHCY Article Prize in German or Italian Winner: Miriam Turrini

It is with great pleasure that the committee for the SHCY Article Prize for the best article (German or Italian) on the History of Children and Youth for 2015 announces that the award goes to Miriam Turrini for her wonderful essay “Poco oltre la soglia: racconti autobiografici di aspiranti gesuiti a metà Seicento," Studi storici3/2014, July –Sept., pp. 585-614. Congratulations Dr. Turrini!

The Prize Committee wrote:

Within a varied field, Turrini’s article stood out for the richness and productivity of the sources used, as well as for the methodological and conceptual issues that her work raises for the study of the history of childhood and youth in early modern Europe.The article is based on a meticulous archival research, whose main focus are the questionnaires compiled between 1636 and 1644 by young aspiring Jesuits admitted to noviciate of S.Andrea, in Rome. Out of the 180 questionnaires available, 82 include the novices’ narratives of their vocation. It is on the sources combining questionnaires and vocational stories that Turrini’s analysis is constructed.

The author presents us with an extraordinary source from a period in which the voices of young people remain elusive and difficult to find. These sources provide information on the background and life experiences of these young people, together with the narration of the discovery of their vocation and subsequent decision to enter the noviciate. Most of the aspiring Jesuits were between 14 and 18 years olds, they came from various Italian and European territories, and from various family backgrounds. Only a minority came from either very rich or very poor family, and many of them were orphans of one or both parents. Young adults rather than children, their testimonies provide precious glimpses into the complicated transition from childhood to adulthood, which in these cases coincided with the equally complicated passage from their “old” secular life to their new life as novices in the Compagnia di Gesù. 

While the narratives studied by Turrini follow a recognisable scheme, the sources offer important insights into the individuality and subjectivity of young people engaged in a process of self-analysis and self-representation.

In order to successfully complete the probation period, the aspiring Jesuits had to answer questions relating to their past, and had to present a vision of their future, seen as a project of self-realisation that should coincide with the obtainment of Christian perfection.

Although inevitably informed by the need to satisfy the expectations of their examiners, the sources studied by Turrini show the complicated effort to narrate a radical life project: a project that required young people not only to resist worldly temptations but also to defy parental opposition. Only in a few cases, in fact, we find examples of solicited or even forced conversions, pursued as part of family strategies. 

Turrini compare texts written by a majority of younger novices with the texts written by (fewer) older writers, thus highlighting both the specificity of younger people’s voices and experiences and the methodological and theoretical issues brought up by the sources.

The essay by Turrini represented an initial approach to this type of egodocuments, which have since been studied further. The article is bound to promote further historiographical reflections on the categories relevant to the history of youth in Europe.

Many thanks to the Prize Commitee: Patrizia Guarnieri (chair, University of Florence), Stefania Bernini (UNSW Australia), Patrizia Dogliani (University of Bologna), Dirk Schumann (chair, University of Göttingen)