Men’s Work: A Comment by Jonas Lindström on Tawny Paul’s, ‘What’s in a name? Men, work and occupational identity’

The evidence collected by the Swedish Gender and Work project supports Tawny Paul’s point about men’s work. It certainly deserves the same kind of detailed analysis as women’s work.

The verb-oriented approach, which uses descriptions of activities instead of occupational titles as the key source to how people in the past made their living, was initially developed in order to tackle the very same problems that Dr Paul describes: few women had occupational titles and common designators such as ‘labourer’ and ‘tenant’ are vague. Very soon, however, the collection of verb-phrases made it obvious that people who did have occupational titles made their living in more ways than their title suggests. We also find tailors who were engaged in retailing, as well as shoemakers who sold beer, a hat-maker who delivered a clock on behalf of someone else and a goldsmith who cut down trees, to name a few examples. Again, this is impressionistic evidence, but it urges us to do more empirical work on what people actually did. Moreover, and more substantially, it calls for a theoretical understanding of early modern life that does not reduce work to occupation.

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CfP: Roundtable Participant Sought for Sixteenth Century Studies Conference

Merry Wiesner-Hanks and Allyson Poska are  looking for a fourth participant for a roundtable that we are putting together for the Sixteenth Century Studies Conference in Vancouver (October 22-25) on women’s work and recent conversations about the early modern economy, including but not limited to the Industrious Revolution, the Great Divergence etc… The third participant works on early modern Japan. This would not be a formal paper, just a short presentation of thoughts, and then discussion.


If you are interested, contact Allyson at or Merry at

What’s in a name? Men, work and occupational identity

According to recent news reports, the number of people in the UK who have side jobs is on the rise. A recent poll of Scottish workers found that 24% had more than one job, while data released by the Office of National Statistics suggests that nearly 1.2 million people in the UK have second jobs.[i] While this trend reflects the failure of wage rates to support basic living costs and the increasing challenge of finding full-time work, it also poses a challenge for working identity. If we work two jobs, which occupational title do we choose? To what extent do our job titles define our social status, and to what extent does an occupational title describe what we actually spend our time doing?


While taking on a second job seems to point to a crisis today, the one-career/one-job model is relatively recent in historical terms. Early modernists have been debating by-employments for some time: how to measure them; how prevalent they were; the relationship between occupational titles and the work that people did.[ii]
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