Women’s Work Across Time and Place, Workshop Report Part Three: Data, Data Collection and Future Directions

This is the third and final part of our summary of the workshop that took place in Glasgow last autumn. On the second day we turned to the practical matters of how to deal with sources, looking at where we can find data on women’s work and how best to collect, organise and put that data to good use.

The Gender and Work project (GaW) based at Uppsala University in Sweden offered an exciting example of what can be achieved, and a framework for collaborative working in the future. Rosemarie Fiebranz and Maria Ågren gave us a demonstration of the database that forms the core of the project. GaW’s verb-orientated method focuses on tasks, gleaning verb-phrases that describe work from a variety of court and other records in early modern Sweden. Their system is designed to be flexible, with 90 fields available to record the context of the verb-phrases they capture and incorporates links to images of the source material. By paying attention to age and life-cycle as well as gender, and by thinking about the ways in which space and time impacted on the tasks completed, analysis of work is complicated beyond a male/female binary. They can use it to perform close-analysis of particularly rich cases, or particular activities, but can also identify macro-level trends. They’ve found, for example, that married women’s time-use was radically different from that of single women. It’s an ambitious and large-scale project, employing fifteen researchers. If this sort of collaboration is ever to be achieved on a European scale, much more attention needs to be given to the ways in which we can calibrate diverse sources to make them suitable for comparison. But the GaW project and database has made this appear to be a much more tangible possibility.

In the last panel of the workshop, some sources were highlighted that contain this very potential for gleaning large bodies of data from small snippets of information that could be compared across time and place. Carmen Sarasúa (UAB) has also created a large dataset from fiscal and statistical information in the eighteenth-century census-like Catastro de Ensenada, recording 40,000 individuals. It revealed that when men’s work was looked at in isolation, the economy appeared to be concentrated in the primary sector. Yet when women’s work was added in, manufacturing became much more prominent. Ann Ighe (University of Gothenburg), raised the possibility of mining prose fiction for material which she is working on in the Swedish context, while John Styles (University of Hertfordshire) made a strong case for the value of depositions in the English courts as well as looking at objects of material culture. Finally Judith Spicksley (University of York) proposed a comparative look at accounts across Europe, including household, business, religious and municipal accounts.

The workshop was concluded with a round-table discussion summarising the proceedings of the previous two days and reporting back from the small-group discussions that had gone on. Lots of ideas were floated for future projects, including establishing a core set of data-fields so that new projects will have in-built comparative possibilities. There was a palpable sense of excitement about the possibilities for future research and a commitment to maintain connections between the participants and reach out to others who weren’t present. Hopefully we’ll see this bear fruit in the near future.

DISCLAIMER: This post represents Catriona Macleod’s recollections of the workshop. Want to add anything/clarify/challenge this summary? Please get in touch and write a post!

Catriona Macleod is a postgraduate research student at the University of Glasgow.

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