Critcal Review: What Contribution Do the Papers by Peter Earle and Elise Van Nederveen Meerkerk Make to the Historical Debate About Women’s Role in the Pre-Industrial European Labour Market?

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  • Topic: London, 2nd millennium, 18th century
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  • Published : January 24, 2013
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In this critical review I will compare the two texts by Peter Earle and Elise van Nederveen Meerkerk. The articles are about woman’s work in the 17th and early 18th century respectively about women’s work in the Dutch textile industry and female labour marked in London. The article by Earle (in 1989) is released before Meerkerk’s article (2006) and there are in Meerkerk analysis some pointing to Earle’s article.

I will start with a short presentation of each of the two articles, how and from what time data is collected, some of the findings and conclusion. And then what contribution their papers have made to the historical debate about women’s role in the pre-industrial labour market.

Both Earle and Meerkerk refer to Alice Clarks pioneer study from 1919 about women’s work in production in pre-industrial time[1] [2]. Earle is more critical to her work than Meerkerk. Peter Earle is the first person after Alice Clark to look deep and critically into how women had it in the labour market in the 17th and 18th century. In his article Earle is saying “Indeed, it would be fair to say that we know virtually nothing about the female labour force in early modern London except in the most unstructured and superficial way[3]. An important note Earle makes in his introduction is that the arguments that Alice Clark put forward has more or less just became accepted and Peter Earle is the first one to test Alice Clark’s analyze[4]. A main thing Meerkerk and Earle are concentrating on is Clark statement that there where a ‘golden age’ for women in the 17th and 18th century.

What becomes clear in Meerkeerk article is that she is influenced by development in economic theory and social theory as well. The way Meerkeerk and Earle do their analyze is different. A major reason for that is that Meerkeerk is a social scientist while Earle is a ‘traditional empiricist historian’. What is easy to see is that Earle look at numbers much more than Meerkerk do, and while...
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