Gender in Early Modern Britain

Course Material 2024/25

Over the past three decades, the use of gender as a category of historical analysis has transformed our understanding of the past through analysis of gendered relations and identities, and the intersection of gender with social status, race and age. In the context of early modern Britain, a patriarchal, pre-industrial household economy undergoing rapid commercial expansion, gender was fundamental to social hierarchy, economic activity, work, legal structures, political authority, religious and medical thought and practice. This was a period of profound and unprecedented social, economic, and political transformation, and gender was both fundamental to the dynamic of historical change and destabilised by it. As a culturally constructed phenomenon, uncovering evidence for gender relations and identities poses particular challenges, both in terms of how we interpret available source materials, and in articulating our own subjectivities. This course explores the sources, methodologies, and key debates in the study of gender in the early modern period.

No previous knowledge of the place or period is assumed. The first four seminars present an overview of the structures in which gendered hierarchies were lived in early modern Britain: law, representations, the household, and ideas of agency. The subsequent four seminars which are thematic, and may include: print; poverty; labour and mobility; crime; civil wars; health, illness and death; capital and commerce; aging and life cycle; or reproduction and sexuality. All seminars introduce sources and ideas for students’ research projects, including both original manuscript and digitised sources from across Britain.