Saturday, October 11, 2008

To be industrious and original

from T. H. Breen's review of Jan de Vries's The Industrious Revolution: Consumer behavior and the household economy:

Between 1650 and 1850, the households throughout north-west Europe and British America responded to consumer incentives not only by working harder, but also by redefining the character of work. . . . In general, men and women worked longer hours. They had fewer holidays. The major force driving the "industrious revolution", however, appears to have been the labour of women and children. Women devoted themselves to productive activities that expanded household income; they stopped making articles at home that they could now purchase. Some engaged in proto-industrial pursuits--spinning and weaving flax and cotten, for example--while others cultivated crops to be sold on the market. A surprisingly large number of women ran small shops.

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A major break in the story occurred around 1850, when the industrious household gave way to an entirely new structure, which he calls somewhat awkwardly the "Breadwinner-Homemaker Household".

. . . Breadwinner-Homemaker families wanted to live in healthy environments. They knew enough about germs to realize that clean homes--those with pure water, clean cooking utensils, and proper sewage facilities--required the household to use store-bought goods in wats that made their homes seem more sanitary, even more respectable. . . . [F]or less well-to-do families, the burden of channelling manufactured good efficiently towards the consumer goal of creating tidy, germ-free environments fell to married women. Unlike the mothers and wives who contributed to the income of the "industrious" households, late nineteenth-century women worked mainly at home, applying their productive labour to processing items purchased in the marketplace. The rising real wages of men, and the continued employment of dependent children, facilitated the transition from one household structure to another.

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After the 1950s, the dynamics of the ordinary household shifted once again. . . . [A]fter the Second World War, men and women began to work longer hours. More significantly, married women returned to the labour force in huge numbers. Most of these women were mothers. . . . The breadwinner-homemaker faces extinction. Men and women have come to prefer living in households with multiple earners.


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from Ian Mortimer's Commentary piece "Beyond the facts":
Names as representations of historical concepts illustrate how modern originality can come to be universally associated with the past and yet not be fictive. No one would refer to the Renaissance as either fictional or imaginary. But what needs to be stressed is that it is not just the name which is truly original but the concept it embodies. . . . True originality can be much more than just a poetic quip which happens to prove popular. It can be a way of envisioning an entire period, and perhaps even a way of envisioning the entire human past.

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