Using Negatives to Fill in the Gaps: Sources for Early Modern Women’s Work

This post comes from Amy Creighton, who is starting her second year as a PhD student at the University of York. Under the supervision of Dr. Mark Jenner, her research focuses on early modern women’s work and conceptions of skill, physical capacity and labour. In particular, she looks at London and York from c. 1660 to 1750. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in History and French from Seattle University and a Master’s degree in Early Modern History from the University of York. To contact Amy, get in touch on Twitter @amyecreighton

Amy Creighton (University of York)

Researching the gendered-nature of skill and labour in early modern England can often present difficulties in finding source that speak to the experiences of women. In order to better understand the nuances of attitudes towards women’s work, a number of different source-types must be examined using various perspectives. Evidence that details negative aspects of trades or instances of work gone wrong can be used to expand upon and complicate studies of women’s work. One such source is petitions for the dissolution of apprenticeship. Since the time of Adam Smith, debates have raged over how oppressive the apprenticeship system was in early modern times, but recent research has begun to explore the way in which apprentices had some control over their own paths. Patrick Wallis, for example, has shown how petitions of dissolution help uncover the expectations apprentices had of their masters and vice versa.[i] By applying such methods of source analysis to cases of female apprenticeship, I seek to reveal how women in particular formed self-constructed narratives within the economic sphere. The quarter session papers of the City of London and Middlesex hold numerous examples of women investing in their skillsets through petitions.[ii]

Historians have addressed the problem that young girls may have often been used for cheap labour rather than true apprentices. Although this was true in certain instances, the petitions provide examples of how women used the system to learn skills that could benefit the family economy or, sometimes, to help create an individual business. As such, when masters or mistresses failed to instruct and denied necessaries the courts provided opportunities to change the situation. Such cases demonstrate contemporary acknowledgement that women could expect to learn skills similar to the way in which men did, and families sought to prevent girls being taken advantage of as domestic servants or hard labourers.

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‘Domestick Employment Washing’, Charles Spooner, c.1750s. Image courtesy of the British Museum.
Continue reading “Using Negatives to Fill in the Gaps: Sources for Early Modern Women’s Work”

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Approaching Public Engagement: Sharing Early Modern Women in a ‘Plus One’ World

This post comes from Gina G. Bennett, a fourth year doctoral student of Transatlantic History at The University of Texas at Arlington. Her dissertation, under the direction of Dr. Kenyon Zimmer, will focus on the influence of women and the degree to which they participated as migrators, producers, labourers, and investors for The Company of Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indies in the transatlantic world in the early modern era. She holds both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in History from Texas A & M – Commerce.  Follow her on WordPress: GinaGBennett.com or Twitter: @GinaGBennett

 

Gina G. Bennet (The University of Texas at Arlington)

Like many readers of the Gender and Work in Early Modern Europe blog, we each are occasionally called to step beyond conferences, lecture halls, and speak outside academia. Often these events take place at a museum or civic building and often include a meal.  People of two sorts are in attendance, the ones choosing to attend and the extra person who comes along as a favor to the first.  This unsuspecting person, a “plus one” on the RSVP card, is possibly less than eager to attend.  Let us call this place where they gather together a  “plus one” space.   Here, history is learned in a more casual way.  There is a reward in winning over the plus ones in this group.  I always jump at the chance to share my research on seventeenth-century Scottish women operating within the transatlantic world with anyone.  But I must admit that sometimes the occasion is a mixture of three parts elation and one part fear.  So let me share with you a compilation of questions that have surfaced from time to time after various presentations of Scotland’s transatlantic colonial venture in a plus one setting described above.

It generally goes something like this: first, after I explain how Scotland attempted to set up a colony in Panama in the 1690s the audience usually are surprised that a Scottish colony was attempted at all.  Mind you, I am an American living in the Southwest so the general knowledge of Scottish history is sparse and often based on geographic archetypical stereotypes. Secondly, someone usually asks, “Why Panama?” Here I can briefly touch on the history of Nova Scotia, sundry navigation acts, throne changes in the seventeenth century, and the overarching drive for status, goods, and revenue related to colonization.  Audiences seem most fascinated by the details of the individual Scottish women that I study, many of whom are central actors in my dissertation research.  They ask questions about these women’s lives and the listener’s faces reflect the intermingling of this new information meshing with their own understanding of early modern life.

Finally, a plus one, perhaps more cynical than the rest, raises their hand to ask, (get ready for that fear part, I mentioned earlier…) “Didn’t these women just take their husband’s money and invest it under their own name?”  Continue reading “Approaching Public Engagement: Sharing Early Modern Women in a ‘Plus One’ World”

How to define and understand early modern work?

This post on defining work comes from Jezzica Israelsson, a doctoral student at Uppsala University, where she is a member of the Gender and Work project. Her thesis analyzes descriptions of work in petitions to certain regional administrations in Sweden between ca. 1760 to 1880, in order to find out what role work played when people sent in these letters and what meanings they ascribed to work in their struggle to protect their rights.

Jezzica Israelsson (Uppsala University)

In today’s society, the concept of work is strongly connected to productive and remunerated activities, often performed outside of the home.[1] In early modern times however, there were no clear boundaries between either home and work or leisure and work. Many things people did for their sustenance were not paid, and if they were it was often in kind or through lodging and food.[2] Recent research has also shown that men and women rarely had one occupation, but engaged in many different tasks to make a living.[3] In addition, society was characterized by some living off the returns of their property and others by their manual labour.[4]

First page of Anna Nilsdotter's letter
Anna Nilsdotter’s letter, 1734, Uppsala landsarkiv (See note 5 below)

These complexities make it clear that delineating what constituted early modern work can be quite problematic. In this post I will highlight two situations where these difficulties are illustrated and what consequences different definitions might have. The examples are taken from the sources I am working on within my thesis project: petitions to regional administrations in Sweden.

 

Continue reading “How to define and understand early modern work?”