Registration Now Open for Invisible Hands: Reassessing the History of Work 16th-18th May 2018


Invisible Hands: Reassessing the History of Work

Kelvinhall, 16th-18th May 2018 

Registration is open here: Invisible Hands.

The draft programme is available here: Invisible Hands Draft Programme 2018.

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, rather than the simple addition of women to existing accounts of economic continuity and change. This conference is designed to foster interdisciplinary and comparative discussion of the insights that gender analysis and feminist economics can bring to the history of work, and the relationship of gendered divisions of labour to economic performance more generally.

The conference will feature plenary lectures from Prof. Jane Humphries (University of Oxford) and Prof. Merry Wiesner-Hanks (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee).

Continue reading “Registration Now Open for Invisible Hands: Reassessing the History of Work 16th-18th May 2018”


Graduate school in Gender History 4-7 June 2018

Université de Rouen Normandie – Groupe de recherche d’Histoire EA 3831

In collaboration with:

Universidad Autonoma de Madrid

Università di Napoli Federico II

Università di Napoli L’Orientale

Università di Roma TRE

Universität Wien


with the financial support of the Institut Universitaire de France

Graduate school 4-7 June 2018


The Groupe de recherche d’Histoire EA 3831, Université de Rouen Normandie, together with the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, the Università di Napoli Federico II, the Università di Napoli L’Orientale, the Università di Roma TRE and the Universität Wien launches a Graduate School on the theme of Gender and public space to be held in Rouen, Normandy, from 4 to 7 June 2018.

Continue reading “Graduate school in Gender History 4-7 June 2018”

Using ‘pre-crime scenes’ for the historical urban ethnography of early modern Amsterdam

This post is written by Bob Pierik who is a PhD candidate at the University of Amsterdam. He is part of the NWO (The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research) project ‘The Freedom of the Streets. Gender and Urban Space in Europe and Asia 1600-1850.’ Earlier this year he started a dissertation project on the gendered use of urban space in early modern Amsterdam.

Bob Pierik (University of Amsterdam)

In March 1710, ordinary life at the Amsterdam Botermarkt was disrupted when Grietje Veenendael, who had a market stand with stockings, was attacked by another market woman. The two women had a dispute over the location of their market stands after which Lena (last name unknown) pulled Grietje backwards and threw her on the ground. Lena’s two daughters and the husband of one of them joined the fight and kicked Grietje brutally.

After the violence, when Grietje had fled to the chief officer to make a statement, people gossiped in the market that a man had attacked Grietje. Perhaps this happened because of the presence of Lena’s son-in-law. Nevertheless, one of Lena’s daughters then returned to the scene to dispel those rumors. She told bystanders ‘while beating her chest’ that ‘it was no man who did that, but me and my mother.’[1]

In my research, I am trying to get a sense of embodied practices of gendered use of urban space. The above is a case that I was able to reconstruct through witness statements drawn up by the secretary of the Chief Officer, who was also sworn in as notary. It is a conflict arising over the claiming and using of space in an area with large numbers of women present. The witnesses that reported the story of Grietje’s assault were all women, the only man present in the narrative was Lena’s son-in-law, which is remarkable compared to similar cases. It shows the textile market as an urban space dominated by women. Continue reading “Using ‘pre-crime scenes’ for the historical urban ethnography of early modern Amsterdam”

Women, Power and Iron

This post comes from Niina Lehmusjärvi, MA, who is writing her PhD thesis in Cultural History in the University of Turku, Finland. She visited Centre for Gender History in the University of Glasgow in 2016. She is currently funded by a grant from the Emil Aaltonen Foundation.

Niina Lehmusjärvi (University of Turku)

The associations between iron, masculinity, and power are archaic. From Greece to Scandinavia, mythologies represent heroic smiths hammering weapons and building fortune bringing magical artefacts.[i] Up until recently the notions about metal and technology as a male domain have been strong. These associations have possibly gained strength from the relative invisibility of women from the history of the iron industries in Sweden.[ii]

Catharina Elisabeth Kijk, née Grubb. Painting by Lorens Pasch the elder. In Ekman, Karl. Ett gammalt herrgårdsbruks historia. Tykö Bruk 1686–1936. Tykö Bruks Aktiebolag. Helsinki 1937, 161.


Women are not invisible in the histories of iron anymore. Historians Gun Björkman, Svante Norrhem, Veli Pekka Toropainen, and Kerstin Westerlund have written about early modern women who took part in the birth of early modern iron industries in Sweden.[iii] While it has been well known that the early modern Kingdom of Sweden was the biggest iron exporter in Europe during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, it is now also known that there has been over three hundred women owning and running iron works and manufactures between the sixteenth and the early nineteenth centuries. Women were most active in this field from 1650’s to 1850’s.[iv]

In order to bring more light into questions of how these women could own iron works and run them, and especially how their work and ownership was related to questions of gender, power and class, I am currently writing my doctoral thesis about two such women. Countess Hedvig Eleonora Stenbock (1664–1729) and merchant Catharina Elisabeth Kijk (1721-1788) ran iron works in South West Finland, at the time part of Kingdom of Sweden.[v] My thesis contributes to the fields of gender and work -studies, but also discusses questions of women’s role in the economics from the point of view of property, power and leadership. As both countess Stenbock and Mrs Kijk belonged to the elite, albeit they had a different social status, the questions of privilege and gender are relevant.

While no detailed accounts or diaries have survived from these women, it is possible, thanks to the keen eye with which the Swedish Crown surveyed the iron industries, to find many documents concerning them.[vi] The archives of the Royal Board of Mines kept in the Swedish National Archives contain detailed protocols where comments of the board members can be found from their regular meetings. The Mining Inspectors sent in insights and evaluations in their reports and surveys about the iron works and the owners’ actions. The iron works owners views are in their letters and petitions, and the Archives of the Steel Producers’ Association reveal how iron works owners were organised. [vii] The National Archives of Finland preserve court documents, deeds and letters of privilege and reports concerning the iron works situated in Finland also from the time it was part of Sweden prior to 1809.[viii]

Countess Hedvig Eleonora Stenbock. Painter unknown. In Ekman, Karl. Ett gammalt herrgårdsbruks historia. Tykö Bruk 1686–1936. Tykö Bruks Aktiebolag. Helsinki 1937, 81.

The legislation affected the visibility of female owners in the documents, since it was the husband that represented the family property even when the iron works were purchased and created together by the spouses. It could even be the case that the iron works were part of her property, since in early modern Sweden married women could own property. But more is known about widowed, rather than married women, who owned and ran iron industries, since they could act independently.[ix] Alongside these documents I am also examining exactly what the legislation said about women’s property and rights, at the same time keeping in mind what Maria Ågren from the University of Uppsala has revealed from the variety and scale of the work and activities of early modern Swedish women.[x] 

The same sort of information and documents about female iron works owners can be found in the Swedish and Finnish archives as for male iron works owners if women were writing in their own name, or if one looks for the documents concerning a specific iron works either from the national or the local archives. In the case of gender and power the administrative documents are more revealing than mere ledgers would be, because they reveal the dynamics and attitudes between iron works owners, the Crown administration, and officials, the owners and sometimes even their family members, the iron works staff, and workers. Documents concerning early modern iron works are a relatively rich source of women’s, owners as well as workers, history.



[i] Accessed November 10th, 2017.

[ii] Westerlund, Kerstin: Kvinnliga Brukspatroner. Tekniska Museet. Stockholm 2004, 208–212.

[iii] Björkman, Gun: Maria Sophia De la Gardie. Kvinna i stormaktstiden. Gyllenstiernska Krapperupstiftelsen. Krapperup 1994; Westerlund 2004; Norrhem, Svante: Ebba Brahe. Makt och kärlek under stormaktstiden. Historiska Media. Lund 2007.

[iv] Hildebrand, Karl Gustaf: Swedish Iron in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries. Export Industry before the Industrialization. Jernkontorets Bergshistoriska Skriftserie 29. Jernkontoret. Södertälje 1992; Westerlund 2004, 188; Du Rietz, Anita: Kvinnors entreprenörskap under 400 år. Centrum för Näringslivshistoria. Dialogos förlag. Stockholm 2013, 157.

[v] Ekman, Karl. Ett gammalt herrgårdsbruks historia. Tykö Bruk 1686–1936. Tykö Bruks Aktiebolag. Helsinki 1937.

[vi] Hildebrand 1992.

[vii] Swedish National Archives (SNA). Archives of the Royal Board of Mines; SNA. Archives of the Steel Producers’ Association.[viii] The National Archives of Finland (NAF). The Archives of the Board of Mines.

[ix] Westerlund, 2004; Du Rietz 2013, 40–47.

[x] Ågren, Maria: Making a Living, Making a Difference: Gender and work in early modern European society. Oxford University Press. New York 2016.


This post comes from Heleen Wyffels, who is a Ph. D. fellow of the Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO) and part of the Research Group for Early Modern History, KU Leuven. Her thesis is entitled: The printer’s widow: gender, family and editorial choices.

Heleen Wyffels, (KU Leuven)

[…] prynted now agayn at Antwerpe, by me wydowe of Christoffel of Endhoven In the yere of oure Lorde. M.CCCCC. and .xxxiiij. […]

At first sight, imprints like these are a dream source for every scholar doing research on early modern women’s work. They contain date and place of publication, and the printer and/or bookseller. In short, they provide information on the production of early modern books which makes it relatively easy to link products to producers. As the example shows, they even regularly mention widows. Catherine was the widow of Christoffel of Ruremund (also known as Christoffel of Endhoven), and published William Tyndale’s translation of the New Testament in Antwerp in 1534 and 1535.

Imprints can be a lot of fun too: not every printer wanted to be identifiable, especially not when printing illicit texts or images. They often pretended to be someone else, for example a colleague from another city, or they made something up. Books printed by “Common sense”, “Lucifer”, and “The printing house of the four chatterboxes who came down from the moon” are just a few examples that demonstrate inventive cheekiness and commentary on the printer’s part.[1]


Court record books as a source for early modern agency and work

This post is from Petteri Impola,  a doctoral student and member of Early Modern Morals – a research center at the Department of History and Ethnology, University of Jyväskylä. His thesis-in-progress entitled: “The Agency and Intangible Capital on the Edge of Estate System in Sweden during the Age of Greatness (c 1620–1720)”, examines the connections of agency, work, and estate and social status in 17th century Sweden. The focus of the thesis is on types of agency that were not attached to one single estate status in early modern everyday life, even though estate-based society and the profession privileges associated with it ideally demanded a strict distribution of work.


Petteri Impola (University of Jyväskylä)

Estates formed the foundation of most societies in early modern Europe. In Sweden, for example, it was the four estates that formed the basis of the society: the nobility, the clergy, the burghers, and the peasants. These categories functioned as legal and political hierarchies, but were also essential in the process of distributing work. Most of the privileges employed to regulate work and trade in mercantile societies were based on statuses derived from the estate-based order.

Even if the distribution of work was in general based on estates, certain professions were carried out by individuals belonging to different estates and of different social statuses. Trade, for example, was traditionally the privilege of the burghers but was practiced, though illegally, by agents from all of the estates. There were also forms of agency, like legal representation, which was not privileged to one estate, and every capable man could participate. Moreover, certain groups of people remained outside the formal estate-structure, as is the case with groups such as vagrants and soldiers. Hence, a significant amount of early modern work took place on ‘the edges of the estate-based order’.

Therefore, in my thesis I examine early modern agency not just from the perspective of gender but also by the intersections of estate position and social status. I compare three different (semi-)professions, which cannot be explained through estate-based privileges: cunning folk, self-educated midwives, and legal representatives. Legal representation, for example, was an emerging profession because of the developing legal system, and almost every man with some reading, writing, and legal skills could help others in the courts. There were sons of clergy and burghers, soldiers, clerks and other low-level civil servants and even peasants working as representatives. The skills and reputation of the agents were crucial for their agency, not just their ancestry. Continue reading “Court record books as a source for early modern agency and work”

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.

‘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”