This article offers a brief survey of scholarship dealing with domestic service in England at the latter end of early modernity. Neglected by British social historians of the ‘productive’ and industrial working classes, servants did not receive much serious attention until the demographers of the 1970s showed that most early modern youths from all backgrounds passed some years in service. The notion of ‘life-cycle service’ has proved controversial but fruitful for the study of the history of the family and of youth, and of the wide variety of functions carried out by servants in pre-industrial households. In the 1980s feminism and the revival of domestic service in middle-class homes led to a surge of interest in modern and Victorian servants, and subsequently in those of the eighteenth century. Historians continue to debate the chronology of the changes (especally feminisation and proletarianisation) affecting service relations and conditions during the transition to modernity. Attention has shifted away from the complex hierarchies which staffed great houses onto the middling- and lower- sort household who employed the majority of servants usually in ones and twos. Since the beginning of the new century there has been greater stress on the agency enjoyed by eighteenth-century servants, and on affective aspects of the master/servant relationship. Meticulous archival research, now facilitated by digitalisation, as well as the growth of interest in material culture and spatialization, a willingess to read between the lines and against the grain of documents, has given us better access to the lived experience and cultural forms of expression used by this and other groups of labouring class men and women of the past.

Good to Think with: Domestic Servants, England 1660-1750

CLEGG, Jeanne Frances
2015

Abstract

This article offers a brief survey of scholarship dealing with domestic service in England at the latter end of early modernity. Neglected by British social historians of the ‘productive’ and industrial working classes, servants did not receive much serious attention until the demographers of the 1970s showed that most early modern youths from all backgrounds passed some years in service. The notion of ‘life-cycle service’ has proved controversial but fruitful for the study of the history of the family and of youth, and of the wide variety of functions carried out by servants in pre-industrial households. In the 1980s feminism and the revival of domestic service in middle-class homes led to a surge of interest in modern and Victorian servants, and subsequently in those of the eighteenth century. Historians continue to debate the chronology of the changes (especally feminisation and proletarianisation) affecting service relations and conditions during the transition to modernity. Attention has shifted away from the complex hierarchies which staffed great houses onto the middling- and lower- sort household who employed the majority of servants usually in ones and twos. Since the beginning of the new century there has been greater stress on the agency enjoyed by eighteenth-century servants, and on affective aspects of the master/servant relationship. Meticulous archival research, now facilitated by digitalisation, as well as the growth of interest in material culture and spatialization, a willingess to read between the lines and against the grain of documents, has given us better access to the lived experience and cultural forms of expression used by this and other groups of labouring class men and women of the past.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/10278/44838
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