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Unit information: Hard Labour? The History of Work (Level H Lecture Response Unit) in 2016/17

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Unit name Hard Labour? The History of Work (Level H Lecture Response Unit)
Unit code HIST30030
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Professor. McLellan
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of History (Historical Studies)
Faculty Faculty of Arts


We spend much of our adult lives at work. This unit asks what it means to study the social and cultural history of work, focusing on the postwar period in the UK and Europe. This was a time when dramatic changes took place in the structures of employment, away from agricultural and industrial work and towards the service sector. Women entered the labour force in larger numbers than ever before, and migrant workers became a key part of postwar economies. As well as paid employment, we’ll also consider work that is unpaid: volunteering, domestic work and reproductive labour. What explains the gendered ways in which paid and unpaid work are distributed? Why do men do less washing-up, and why do women get paid less? Finally, we’ll be asking how work has been represented in the media, and how this affects popular understandings. Sources will include datasets, oral histories eyewitness accounts and memoirs, newspapers and other media.

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of this unit students will have developed:

  1. a broad understanding of the development of work in the modern world;
  2. the ability to analyse and generalise about how and why work has been valued, measured , regulated and studied;
  3. the ability to select pertinent evidence/data in order to illustrate/demonstrate more general issues and arguments;
  4. the ability to identify a particular academic interpretation, evaluate it critically, and form an individual viewpoint.

Teaching details

1 x 2-hour interactive lecture per week.

Assessment Details

One summative coursework essay of 3000 words (50%) and one unseen examination of two hours comprising 2 questions out of 8 (50%). Both elements will assess ILOs 1-4.

Reading and References

Josef Ehmer and Catharina Lis (eds), The Idea of Work in Europe from Antiquity to Early Modern Times (Ashgate, 2009).

Marcel van der Linden, Workers of the World. Essays toward a Global Labor History (Brill, 2008).

Catharina Lis and Hugo Soly, Worthy Efforts: Attitudes to Work and Workers in Pre-Industrial Europe (Brill, 2012).

Pat Mainardi, 'The Politics of Housework', Redstockings, 1970.

Selina Todd, Young Women, Work, and Family in England 1918-1950 (Oxford University Press, 2005).