Call for Papers for the panel "Housewives or workers? : domestic work and care work in the societies of the past" ESSHC 2023

Beatrice Zucca Micheletto Announcement
Subject Fields
Women's & Gender History / Studies, Labor History / Studies, Economic History / Studies, Early Modern History and Period Studies, Contemporary History

CFP for a panel at the European Social Science History Conference (ESSHC)

Gothenburg, 12-15 April 2023

Housewives or workers? : domestic work and care work in the societies of the past

In the last twenty years, an important strand of research has highlighted the great variety of care activities and domestic works provided by the family members for the well-being of the household. These activities cover a range of different, and often overlooked, works and jobs, from nursing and healing ill people or disabled people, babies, children and elderly, to shopping and supplying goods to the house, preparing and cooking food and meals, from sewing and mending clothes and linen, to doing the laundry and the cleaning-up of the house. Starting from the unquestionable fact that women and girls were (and are) the most numerous and important providers of these kinds of work, studies have denounced the fact that, regrettably, domestic and care jobs are not taken into account in the calculation of the GDP of the countries, with the consequent undervaluation of their economic and social value.

In the last decade, works by Erickson (2012), Shepard (2015), Ågren (2018), Sarti (2018) and Whittle (2019) have argued that in early modern and modern societies the term ‘wife’ referred not only to the marital status, but it was also used to describe a woman with ‘capacity to govern’; a woman who could perform managerial work as ‘governor’ of the household. In this perspective, Shepard maintains that it is necessary to recognize ‘‘the occupational dimension of ‘housewifery’’’, that is the fact that wives “were assigned responsibility for saving, increasing and accounting for goods”.

This topic needs further research. Firstly, data and information on domestic and care jobs performed by women for the societies of the past are still scattered and patchy, and there is a need for more information, (i.e. about spaces, timing and material conditions and consumptions connected to these activities). A second approach should focus specifically on the verbiage: the meaning of ‘being a wife’ and on the origin and the development of the notion of ‘housewife’ and/or on the words used to describe a person performing this kind of activities (i.e. ‘attending household affairs’ etc..). Third, it is still unclear whether ‘housewifery’ or the condition of ‘being the wife of’ gave real social and economic acknowledgement to female activities, or if it simply reflected what were considered ‘natural female duties’ – that is, housekeeping, and the capacity to govern and manage a house.

Starting from these premises, the present panel focuses on the social and economic role of the ‘housewife’ in the societies of the past. At the same time, it aims to understand the content of care works and domestic works, by analysing therefore the multiple meanings of these activities across different social, economic, cultural and politic contexts.

We encourage submission of proposals from every region and chronological framework.

Papers should address one (or more) of the following questions:

  1. In what did consist care work and domestic work for the societies of the past?
  2. What were the economic and social implications of being a ‘housewife’?
  3.  What were the different words / expressions used to indicate and name the ‘housewife’ in the past?
  4. What were the tasks/ activities performed?  How much time was allocated for them?
  5. What kind of equipment or tools were used? What kind of knowledge was required? And how this knowledge was acquired, and then transmitted to peers and to the youngers?
  6. How can we estimate the economic and social value of domestic and care jobs?
  7. To what extent did specific models of femininity (and masculinity) influence these activities?
  8. To what extent the housewife/woman performing domestic work and care work for the family was acknowledged as a real worker?                

Please send a short abstract (500 words max) and a short CV to the organizers  by 10th April 2022:

Beatrice Zucca Micheletto :

Céline Mutos Xicola :

We will inform you about the result of the panel selection after 15th April 2022 (deadline for submission through the ESSHC website).

For further information about the European Social Science History Conference please visit :

Contact Information

Beatrice Zucca Micheletto

DISSGeA - University of Padua (Italy)

Contact Email