The Gender and Work Research Project
The Gender and Work research project is conducted at Uppsala University’s department of history. Its primary aim is to add to existing knowledge regarding work performed by men and women in the past.
During the first phase of the project, from 2010 to 2014, we studied how women and men sustained and provided for themselves in Sweden in the period from 1550 to 1800. The second phase of the project, from 2017 to 2021, studied how this changed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The third phase of the project aims to further develop methods and concepts that are more generally useful in historical research on people’s work in the past and in comparison with other countries. The third phase is carried out from 2020 to 2029 inclusive, with funding from the Swedish Research Council.
This question about how women and men sustained and provided for themselves should be understood in very concrete terms. We project members were not interested in general, sweeping answers such as “men lived off the land” or “most people were peasants”. Those are answers we already had. Rather, our aim was to locate the actual division of labor:
- Who did what?
- In what contexts?
- What did the work mean to the person who performed it?
- What did the division of labor mean for society in general?
Despite the basic nature of these questions, the answers were something we knew relatively little about. What did a nobleman do, really? What, really, did a farmer do during the day, practically speaking? What did his wife do? Or his farmhand? Or his children? Was the division of labor different in different parts of the country? Did it change over time? Or if, for instance, we look at an artisan’s household: which work activities were performed by the master? Which were performed by the apprentices and journeymen? What did the artisan’s wife do?
GaW and the Wallenberg Scholar grant
The Gender and Work research project was made possible by a Wallenberg Scholars grant awarded to Professor Maria Ågren.
“Being backed to carry out this project is my most fantastic experience as a researcher. We will be able to work on a large scale and in teams, which is rare in the humanities. The normal situation is for researchers in these fields to work alone.”
(Maria Ågren, project leader)
Doctoral students within GaW
- Christopher Pihl defended his doctoral thesis Arbete: Skillnadsskapande och försörjning i 1500-talets Sverige [Work: Constructing Difference and Making a Living in Sixteenth-Century Sweden] in 2012.
- Christoffer Åhlman defended his doctoral thesis Mötet med det skrivna ordet: Kvinnors läsande och skrivande under 1700-talet, on women's reading and writing in the 18th century, in 2019.
- Jezzica Israelsson writes her dissertation on how women and men adduced their work as an argument when asking for help and claiming rights in the eighteenth century.
- Caroline Lindroth writes her dissertation on how women and men supported themselves in and around Sala silver mine from the late eighteenth to the late nineteenth century
- Carolina Menker writes her dissertation on how old people supported themselves and were supported by others in the eighteenth century.
Why study work performed in the past
- To understand people’s living conditions
- To understand relationships between women and men
- To understand economic conditions and economic development
Why has our knowledge been limited?
- Our knowledge about the past is dependent upon the traces left behind by historical actors. These traces reflect what people considered interesting enough to record in writing. That which was taken for granted — for example, people’s everyday occupations — was seldom commented upon.
- Job titles were unusual, particularly in the countryside, and even more especially among women.
- While it is possible to find information about how people occupied themselves, it is both time-consuming and, consequently, expensive.
Much of the existing knowledge in the area gender and work is built upon information from the 19th century. This period was marked by significant societal transformations, meaning that it is not at all certain that prevalent conditions of that time applied as well to earlier periods. For this reason, researchers in the Gender and Work project go further back in time in order to conduct empirical investigations concerning the ways that people in different social groups, of different ages, and of different genders supported themselves.