Producing Change: Gender and Work in Early Modern Europe [website]
The project is supported by Alexandra Shepard (Glasgow University), in collaboration with Amy Erickson (Cambridge University); Maria Agren (Uppsala University); Anna Bellavitis (Rouen University), Carmen Sarasua (Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona); Ariadne Schmidt (Leiden University)
Le projet est porté par Alexandra Shepard (Glasgow University), avec la collaboration de Amy Erickson (Cambridge University); Maria Agren (Uppsala University); Anna Bellavitis (Université de Rouen), Carmen Sarasua (Universidad Autonoma de Barcelona); Ariadne Schmidt (Leiden University)
More than simply ‘adding women’ to existing assessments of economic activity, it is becoming increasingly clear that attending to the relationship between gender and work demands a fundamental reassessment of the very nature of economic performance. Bringing together a broad range of expertise garnered through intensive local and regional research, this network is designed to seize a timely opportunity to foster extensive collaborative and comparative research on the multi-lateral character of both women and men’s work in order build a new paradigm for approaching modernization in early modern Europe.
Context and aim of the programme
The historical relationship between gender and economic development is central to our understanding of both. Economic historians have traditionally adopted a gender-blind approach to charting growth, stagnation or crisis in Europe during the critical period prior to industrialisation (c.1500-c.1800). The anachronistic categorisation of work, which prioritises paid over unpaid labour and occupational titles over tasks performed, has marginalised women and distorted the roles attributed to men in overly teleological narratives of change. Over the past decade or so gender historians have renewed efforts to amass evidence of female economic agency in various parts of Europe that challenges conventional approaches to and accounts of the commercial development and early industrial relations that distinguished parts of early modern Europe. More than simply ‘adding women’ to existing assessments of economic activity, it is becoming increasingly clear that attending to the relationship between gender and work demands a fundamental reassessment of the very nature of economic performance. Combining a broad range of expertise garnered through intensive local and regional research, this network is designed to seize a timely opportunity to foster extensive collaborative research on the multi-lateral character of both women and men’s work in order build a new paradigm for approaching modernization in early modern Europe.
The network will lay the foundations for the broad comparative research that is required to overhaul our understanding of the early modern economy. The overarching goals of the network are to establish a conceptual framework for assessing work in pre-industrial Europe and to lay the practical foundations for pooling existing resources and for creating and comparing large amounts of data across regions and over time. The network is intended to consolidate existing links between network partners already developed through three workshops
(Cambridge 2010; Stockholm 2012; Glasgow 2014), and to expand connections between researchers across Europe building towards a common project whereby local expertise can be placed within and give shape to an overarching and comparative framework.
The network will produce three main outcomes:
- We will establish the conceptual foundations necessary for analysing economic life and assessing economic development. In order to move beyond overly anachronistic and static categories, and to produce a framework for a more fully inclusive understanding of early modern economic agency, concepts of work will be theorised in dialogue with feminist theorists, development economists and anthropologists and will be historicised through detailed empirical observation. Piecing together what work meant to early modern women and men will be based on their quotidian practices as well as discursive frameworks. Early modern concepts of work can be discerned from relating tasks performed to the descriptors attached to them, representing various forms of work in terms of (for example) help, aid, labour, service, skill, management, duty, devotion and obligation, as well as situating these meanings within the structures determining working relationships, both free and unfree. The varied forms and value of remuneration attached to work, and the complex associations between tasks performed, institutional regulation and occupational identities will also be explored. Close attention will be paid to the relationship between work and the life-cycle, in order to accommodate the impact of age and marital status on the working patterns and career paths of both sexes, besides the work of children and the demands of childcare.
Much of this conceptual work will build on the ‘verb-oriented approach’, pioneered for Sweden by the Gender and Work Project (GaW) at Uppsala University, which provides the methodology to inform a broader set of comparisons. The network will develop a framework for the comparative assessment of time-use to enable a more inclusive assessment of the relative importance of economic sectors in the pre-industrial economy—for example by incorporating the extensive evidence of women’s manufacture that is routinely overlooked in conventional accounts of occupational structure. The network is designed to encourage a wide range of comparisons within and between regions, including the juxtaposition of Northwest and Southern Europe in order to question the impact of marriage patterns and varying marital economies on early modern patterns of production and economic performance. In addition, European experience will be situated within the globalising economy associated with the development of colonial markets and a growing density of connections linking the Atlantic, Indian Ocean and East Indian worlds.
- Network members will collaborate on compiling a database of available sources and existing datasets that can be used by scholars to identify the most promising avenues for sustained comparison. The network will develop methodological guidelines in order to facilitate the sharing of data and research findings. A series of templates will be produced for approaching various types of source material common across Europe, such as court records (criminal and civil), fiscal sources, guild records, account books, wage series, probate records, petitions, and diaries. These tasks (compiling a database of sources and producing guidelines for approaching particular genres) will enable the calibration of available data, and the coverage of existing studies will additionally be mapped in order to establish critical gaps as well as areas ripe for comparison.
In addition a set of principles for data collection and dataset design will be produced for researchers compiling datasets to ensure the greatest possible compatibility and comparability of findings. All these materials will be made freely available on a network website. It is anticipated that these resources, and the discussions required to create them, will provide the starting point for future funding applications to support large-scale comparative research projects.
- Through conferences and the publication of a series of essays, the network will re-evaluate the meta-narratives that, in the past, historians have use to account for economic development in the early modern period such as state formation, technological development, capitalist growth, proto-industrialisation, and an ‘industrious’ revolution. This will include a meta-study which reviews existing coverage, hypotheses and results. Through attending to gender differentiation and overlap in working patterns, as well as the meanings early modern women and men attached to their economic activities, the network will produce a new paradigm for explaining the course and character of European economic performance.
Role of GRHis in the network
The GRHis has wide experience in organizing international workshops and conferences. In 2013, the week of advanced training of the International Doctorate in Gender History (Universities of Naples-L’Orientale; Normandy-Rouen; MadridAutonoma; Wien; Dundee) on Gender, rights and work in past and present societies/Interdisciplinary approaches was organized in Rouen, by the GRHis, the Doctoral School ED-HMPL and the IRIHS (Institut de Recherche Hommes-Société), the organisational structure in humanities of Rouen University. The GRHis will host network meetings and its members will lead the research about France and Italy.