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Writing Work: Non Elite Writers and Work in Seventeenth Century England

Venue: Birkbeck 43 Gordon Square

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What do non-elite writers tell us about work, and how can we deepen our understanding of the ways in which they conceptualised labour? Please join us to explore the conceptualisation of labour in seventeenth century England and to think about the ways in which we can investigate and articulate the texts that tell us about work as well as what kinds of writers and writings can be used to consider it. We start from the assumption that approaching non-elite writing through the prism of work is a key approach to elucidating key economic and ideological forces in early modern writing. Topics we will consider in papers and discussion include:

  • Early modern and modern ideas about ‘work’ and how we might think about that and the relationship between the two categories of writing and work
  • Where we find writing on work and how far such writing is about work
  • The sources we use to consider ‘work writing’; how far these can be changed or deepened – and what different resources tell us about gender, space, location and association
  • Who writes about work, who is written about and why
  • The genres which disclose work – what should we count as a text that ‘writes work’
  • Relationships between gender and work



0930 tea/coffee  

10.00–11.15 Session 1: Genres and modes of non-elite writing (chair: Brodie Waddell) 

  • Sue Wiseman (Birkbeck, University of London): What isn’t work? Labour’s languages 
  • Jasmine Kilburn-Toppin (Cardiff University): Artisanal work and authorship at the early modern Tower Mint   

11.15–11.35 Break  

11.35–12.50 Session 2: Concepts of work and concepts of writing (chair: Sue Wiseman) 

  • Robert Stearn (Birkbeck, University of London): Writing work: Forms and methodologies 
  • Hillary Taylor (University of Cambridge): Who “wrote” about work in 17th-Century England, if most workers could not write? 

12.50–1.50 Lunch 

1.50–2.35 Session 3: Representing labour (chair: Sara Pennell) 

  • Brodie Waddell (Birkbeck, University of London): Work on the page: Labour and occupation in autobiographical writing and petitions

2.35–2.45 Break  

2.45–4.00 Session 4: Gender and work: a manifesto? (chair: Robert Stearn) 

  • Sara Pennell (University of Greenwich): A manifesto for working women? Hannah Wolley’s A Guide to Ladies, Gentlewomen and Maids (1668) 
  • Jane Whittle (University of Exeter): Gender and the nature of early modern work: Definitions and motivations   

4.00–4.30 Break  

4.30–5.15 Roundtable 


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