Welcome and Thank you

Welcome to the ‘Forms of Labour’ project website and a big thank you to the European Research Council for awarding the funding necessary to do this research!

It is such a privilege to be able to expand on the research conducted in the Leverhulme Trust funded ‘Women’s Work in Rural England’ project. We hope that by collecting data from two further regions – the north of England and eastern/central England – we can create a national picture of women’s work in the period 1550-1700 using our innovative methodology. As before, we are collecting incidental descriptions of work from court depositions, and we intend to expand the number of work tasks (specific tasks undertaken by specific people) recorded from 4300 in the existing database to 15,000. This will allow a wider range of forms of analysis to be carried out.

The first project indicated that the methodology was not only a valuable way of collecting data about the gendered nature of work, but many other aspects of work too. Mark Hailwood has had his article on work and time-use, which draws on information in the database, accepted by Past and Present. Charmian Mansell helped us develop an approach to analysing the spatial location of work – drawing on the approach used to look at female servants’ work in her PhD thesis. We used the information about work being inside/outside in our forthcoming Economic History Review article to refute common conceptions of women’s work (women’s work was more likely than men’s work to be carried out inside a house – but only 49% of women’s work was inside, compared to 29% of men’s work, so it is not true to say ‘women worked at home while men worked outside’). Imogene Dudley’s PhD examining women’s paid work recorded in household accounts (now awarded – congratulations Imogene!) allowed us to make detailed comparisons between the agricultural wage work and in the work tasks in the database: this demonstrates how waged work paid by the day differed substantially from the wider range of work tasks women and men carried out in the rural economy. While the work task database does not consistently record whether work was paid, it does record if it was done ‘for another’, which provides an avenue to explore labour relations in households undocumented by accounts.

The new enlarged database will lead to a book on The Experience of Work in Early Modern England. This will look at how work varied by gender, age and marital status; the location and timing of work; what types of work were done ‘for another’, and how work tasks compare with occupational descriptors; and importantly – the range of work tasks that made up different areas of the economy such as agriculture, commerce, textile and clothing production, and housework. This book is only one of three overlapping strands of research in the new project – future blogs will explore the other strands, the PhD studentship we are currently advertising, as well as thoughts on interesting types of documents and legal cases from the two wonderful postdocs working on the new project, Hannah and Taylor, and some more general musings on the nature of work and its history.

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