Proposal preview

Global Conversations: Gender, Work, and Economic Development

The historical relationship between gender and economic development is central to our understanding of both. This session draws on the insights of development economics and feminist economics in order to assess the central significance of women’s work to early modern economic performance. While development economists see women’s contributions as critically important to economic performance, historians of the economic transitions to ‘modernity’ remain largely wedded to accounts of change that are either gender-blind or privilege male economic activity. The anachronistic categorisation of work, which prioritises paid over unpaid labour and occupational titles over tasks performed, has marginalised women and distorted the roles attributed to men in overly teleological narratives of commercialisation, expansion, and early industrialization in northwest Europe between 1400 and 1800. Over the past decade gender historians have renewed efforts to amass evidence of female economic agency in across the globe. More than simply ‘adding women’ to existing assessments of economic activity, it is becoming clear that attending to the relationship between gender and work requires a fundamental reassessment of the character of economic development, with implications for our understanding of the global processes associated with both the ‘little’ and ‘great’ divergences, as well as what ‘counts’ as economic activity and produces change.

This session grows out of the Leverhulme International Network on ‘Producing Change: Gender and Work in Early Modern Europe’ which is comprised of researchers from across western Europe working on six themes: households, individuals and intermediaries; care; migration; urban markets; rural manufacturing; and the work of war. This double session brings the Leverhulme Network Partners into conversation with historians of women in Africa, Asia, and the Americas, in order to establish a comparative framework both for testing assumptions about the relationship between gender, work and economic performance in European, indigenous, and colonial contexts, and for examining the chronology of changes in the relationship of gender and work. Comparisons between European and non-European ways of organizing gender and work also display some interesting similarities that help develop new understandings of micro and macro developments.


  • Alexandra Shepard, University of Glasgow,, UK

Session members

  • Maria Ågren, Uppsala University,
  • Anna Bellavitis, Université de Rouen,
  • Amy Erickson, Cambridge University,
  • Margaret Hunt, Uppsala University,
  • Karen Marrero, Wayne State University,
  • Sean Redding, Amherst College,
  • Carmen Sarasúa, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona,
  • Ariadne Schmidt, Universiteit Leiden,
  • Alexandra Shepard, University of Glasgow,
  • Sasha Turner, Quinnipiac University,

Proposed discussant(s)

  • Martha C Howell, Columbia University,
  • Julie A Nelson, University of Massachusetts, Boston,
  • Fariba Zarinebaf, UC Riverside,


Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.