Gender and Work

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 study how this changed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Read about our results

Read about the new project

See our publications

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?

Wallenberg scholars

Maria Ågren Wallenberg Scholar 2009

The Gender and Work research project was made possible by a Wallenberg Scholars grant awarded to Professor Maria Ågren.

“Wallenberg Scholars is the most significant thing that has happened to me since I was named professor, and it is extraordinarily meaningful for me. The grant has made it possible for me to assemble a research team, to use new cooperative methods, and to create a project that is substantially larger than what is usual within the humanities”. (Maria Ågren, project leader)

A woman sitting with her hand work

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.

Men and a horse working in a coal mine