Historical Scientific Research

The views on the social significance of endowments were varied. Some of them emphasize on the positive role of donations and endowments against the dismantling of the welfare state and the decline of the state-run welfare institutions. They even call for the replacement of the "support state" from the bourgeois charity (for example, the philosopher Peter Sloterdijk in a controversial Cicero article entitled "Breaking up the power providers"). Some others have criticized ensowments for various reasons. The historian Dimitris Arvanitakis sees during the flourishing of the endowments - which were supported by private donors - , during the foundation of the Greek state in the nineteenth century, a cause of its notorious - until our days - institutional weakness. Immanuel Kant, perhaps one of the fiercest adversaries of the system of endowments, described in the Metaphysics of Morals (1797) the "pious endowments (such widows' houses, hospitals, etc.)" as "means of income for lazy people." For this, the controversial social significance of endowments may be one of the reasons why endowments have become a more important subject of research in the field of historical science.

The new research approaches, which have been developed during the past decades in the field of the endowments' history, are differentiated by the previous ones (v.a. paths of legal history). Legal and church historians had previously considered endowments as legal institutions, whose continuity and eternity was guaranteed by their "legal character", in which for example Hans Liermann, through his fundamental history of founding law (1963), find the roots of this juridical construction of the endowments as an institution from the Codex Iustinianus. From the other hand, endowments' historians, as a consequence of the fundamental work of the Berliner Medievalist Michael Borgolte, perceive endowments not only as legal, but also as social conditions, as interactions of social groups and individuals, as institutions that (like any other social institution) are characterized of contingency and negotiation processes. Instead of concentrating on the juridical fiction of their eternity and constancy, or on the bond of "sacrosanct" donor intentions, other aspects are being considered: how the exciting relationship between the expectations and motivations of the founder and the endowments' executives, the discrepancies between the "Donor's will'' and the "endowment's reality", the impact of political and social change on the endowment, the success or the failure of the donor for the execution of his will by the forthcoming generations.

Borgolte (1993) interprets endowments based on the French sociologists Marcel Mauss (1872-1950) as "total social institutions", since almost all the important social subsystems are being characterized by the existence of endowments, next to the law and religion but also economy, art, aesthetics and morality. For this reason Borgolte through his work, which is inspired by the endowments' historical researches, suggests that endowments should not be considered as an object of interest exclusively from the point of view of a legal historian, but as a research object of general relevance. The fact that endowments can be interpreted as social conditions or even as "total social phenomena" can be illustrated by three points:

Endowments and Memoria: endowments' historians have profoundly linked the evaluation of their source material with the remembrance research influential in the cultural sciences. For the guarantee of the memoria, the rememberance of the donor is a central point of view, which accompanies the endowments' historian at every step. The Memoria is a central (however by far not the only) motivation for donors to set up endowments - in the case of pious foundations, further motivation factors are the promotion for the salvation of their soul or the worship of God. In return for their charitable work, deceased donors ask the living / beneficiary to perform prayer and memorial services. Remembrance research, however, points to the nature of Memoria as a social phenomenon, which is not the power of the individual and the individual psyche. Already Maurice Halbwachs formulated in his work La mémoire collective (1939) the insight that all memory is socially mediated and that the collective memory is a memory of groups. Endowments can also be understood as institutions which organize to some extent the remembrance of the descendants for the preceding ones.

Endowments as a self-presentation form: The Endowments' historical theory also points to the character of endowments as self-presentation forms and areas that fulfill rhetorical and performative functions. Endowments are ordinarily visible to the social and public eye (whether that concerns sacred altars and churches in holy places, the ecclesiastical distribution of aid during the last days of the donor, or the support of public welfare institutions). Christine Göttler (2000), through the exemplar of the Portuguese conversions in the Antwerp of the late 16th century, proved that either the sincere Catholic faithfulness was performed superficially, or the secret adherence to the Jewish religion was being covered.

Endowments as Intergenerational Interaction: Donators pursue the goal that their Will will be carried out "eternally" and it will remain present and current in the society / community even after their death. Regardless to the socioeconomic power of a donor in his lifetime and regardless to the financial value of the endowments, this opportunity to find obedience among the descendants is a possibility and not a certainty. It depends on factors such as the social and cultural change or the behavior of the endowments' executives. The success of the endowment depends on the duration and stability of the social relationship between donor and endowment's executive. An exemplar from the Greek community of the Holy Trinity in Vienna shows that one could get into conflict with the descendants if their normative ideas were not taken into account: Stephan von Warnaw, who died in Salzburg on 12 September 1861, inherited to the Holy Trinity 2000 Gulden as founding capital, whose interest income should be distributed to the "Greek poor people". The fact that he had appointed the "Greek clergyman" as the executor of this will, and not the head of the community, led to a conflict with the community's leadership. It is clear from a memorandum that the community refused to undertake the endowment, because the donor wanted to leave to the clerics the decision how to distribute the aid to the poor. However, the community's order, which was based on a privilege granted by Emperor Joseph II in 1787, indicated that the local governors should manage the donation and endowment's capital:

"As for the endowment for the Poor; The Assembly recognized, in particular, the request made by the president of the community Karajan, that the distribution of interests should not be exercised in the manner, which was determined by the founder. The chairman is totally convinced that our memorable Warnaw made this in complete ignorance of the attitude of the clergy towards the community; For, in the first place, the community never had a priest as president, and, secondly, the paragraph  § 5 of the privilege clearly refers to the distribution of the donations only by the chosen three commisioners. "(Memorandum of Duchateaux for the Council meeting of October 15, 1864, AHD G7 Fasz 13).

Endowments-related sources (such as endowments' letters, wills, official correspondences) - interpreted as ego documents - give an idea of the mentality of individuals and groups of persons who have left no or few written testimonies. Endowment's establishment and endowment's practices  are also strongly influenced by the transformation of religious and confessional beliefs, such as the belief in purgatory, which was established in the 13th century, and the possibility of the shortening the stay of the deceased there through compassionate actions and prayers on the part of the livings (see Lusiardi 2000). When, during the Reformation, the conception came into the criticism that souls can be influenced by good works, endowments and endowments -related memorial practices were subjected to a fundamental change in the Protestant area (see Scheller, 2004).


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