Producing Change: Gender and Work in Early Modern Europe

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This research network brings together historians of gender and work in Early Modern Europe. The historical relationship between gender and economic development is central to our understanding of both. Economic historians have traditionally adopted a gender-blind approach to charting growth, stagnation or crisis in Europe during the critical period prior to industrialisation (c.1500-c.1800). The anachronistic categorisation of work, which prioritises paid over unpaid labour and occupational titles over tasks performed, has marginalised women and distorted the roles attributed to men in overly teleological narratives of change. Over the past decade or so gender historians have renewed efforts to amass evidence of female economic agency in various parts of Europe that challenges conventional approaches to and accounts of the commercial development and early industrial relations that distinguished parts of early modern Europe. More than simply ‘adding women’ to existing assessments of economic activity, 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. Combining a broad range of expertise garnered through intensive local and regional research, this network is designed to seize a timely opportunity to foster extensive collaborative research on the multi-lateral character of both women and men’s work in order build a new paradigm for approaching modernization in early modern Europe.

The network will lay the foundations for the broad comparative research that is required to overhaul our understanding of the early modern economy. The overarching goals of the network are to establish a conceptual framework for assessing work in pre-industrial Europe and to lay the practical foundations for pooling existing resources and for creating and comparing large amounts of data across regions and over time. The network is intended to consolidate existing links between network partners and to expand connections between researchers across Europe building towards a common project whereby local expertise can be placed within and give shape to an overarching and comparative framework.


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Fair Lemons & Oranges, 1688 [Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)], via The British Museum

Detail from Fair Lemons & Oranges, 1688 [Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)], via The British Museum