McQuillan shows that the population of the once largely German-speaking region of Alsace was sharply divided into two major religious communities, one Catholic, the other Lutheran. Religion was a central source of identity and a filter through which the political struggles associated with the integration of the region into French society were perceived. The five communities McQuillan studies represent both the religious division in the region and the varying economic circumstances of the population. His analysis of the demographic record of these communities is based on a family reconstitution analysis, which permits a detailed study of patterns of marriage, illegitimacy, marital fertility, and childhood mortality.
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