CFP Conference: Fading Industriousness? Work, leisure, and everyday time-use of the elderly in early modern Europe and Beyond (1450-1830)

Gerrit Verhoeven's picture
Call for Papers
August 24, 2020
Subject Fields: 
Urban History / Studies, Women's & Gender History / Studies, Social History / Studies, Cultural History / Studies, Early Modern History and Period Studies

Even though ageing in the past has become a topical theme in the last few decades, many dimensions of the everyday life of the elderly still remain in the dark. Work is, for instance, still heavily debated. Numerous clauses in testaments and rents, ledgers of the craft-guilds, commercial contracts of old people’s homes, and other references evidence that the concept of retirement was not completely unknown in early modern Europe. Meanwhile, other sources seem to suggest that a large swath of society struggled and toiled on well into their old age. In this respect, even the most basic questions remain hard to answer. How active were the elderly on the labour market? When were certain professions, and especially the most arduous, exchanged for less demanding jobs? To what extent was wage labour considered a welcome (and perhaps even vital) addition to retirement pensions from craft-guilds, commercial rents, and other sources of income? Although these issues are of key importance, the aim of the conference is also to look beyond the classic work/retirement debate in order to uncover other dimensions of everyday time-use during old age. Did the elderly engage in different leisure activities than their younger family members, neighbours, and friends? Was their sleeping pattern atypical? What about religion, domestic experiences and chores or personal hygiene? Participants will be asked to reflect on the central theme of everyday time-use of the elderly by delving into new sources (testaments, legislation, court proceedings, ego-documents…) or by developing new methodologies.

Hence, this conference wants to give fresh impetus to research on the daily lives and survival strategies of an important social category which has, all too often, been largely ignored in mainstream historical research. To further understand the links between peoples’ lifecycle stages and their labour and leisure activities, as well as their religious and domestic experiences, this conference welcomes papers addressing:


Session 1 (Work) – the labour activities of ageing men and women; the interplay between peoples’ agency and the ways they could/ tried to provide for their own livelihood during old ages.


Did physical and mental decline reduce labour input once people entered into old age? If so, at what age did this happen? Did it cause a severe decline in earnings, so that old age came with a high risk of poverty and vulnerability? Was ageing synonymous for poverty? Or could a younger spouse, (resident) children, and other family members remedy income losses, and, if so, what did this mean for the participation of women and children in labour markets? …


SESSION 2 (Leisure) – the leisure activities of the elderly vis à vis the younger generations.


Was leisurely retirement a possibility? For whom? Which leisure activities (if any) were associated with old age? To what extent were grandparents expected to ‘entertain’ their grandchildren? Can we find traces of intergenerational leisure activities? …  


SESSION 3 (Religion) – the link between ageing and religious experience(s).


How did ageing influence peoples’ religiosity, ways of praying (church, rosaries, private altar…), funeral arrangements, etc.? How did the elderly express their religiosity in their wills, diaries and letters? Was a growing fear of death the inevitable side-effect of growing old? Did people expect the elderly to be preoccupied with the salvation of their souls? 

SESSION 4 (domestic experiences) – the links between ageing and living arrangements, household

structures and compositions, family networks, household chores, etc.


To what extent did expectations of family support during old age and eligibility for social assistance influence individuals’ domestic experiences? Did the elderly (preferably) maintain an independent household. With whom – if not – did they share their households? How did ageing affect their  position, authority and tasks within the family?



ORGANISING COMMITTEEBruno Blondé (UA), Isabelle Devos (UGent), Kim Overlaet (Lund), Wouter Ryckbosch (VUBrussels), Johan Verberckmoes (KULeuven) Gerrit Verhoeven (UA) & Jaco Zuiderduijn (Lund).


Keynote speakers – Lynn Botelho (IUP) & Jaco Zuijderduijn (Lund)


Abstract  participants are kindly invited to send in an abstract of their presentation (ca. 400 words) and a short biographical note (100 words) before 24 August 2020  to and/or