Sunday, March 6, 2011

Domestic Change and National Policy: How English Women Got Their Groove Back

The Hartman reading entitled "Interpreting the Western Past with the Women and the Households Left In, 1500-1800" focuses on the issue of women in the household and the resultant changes in religious upheaval, political movements and discourse, and economic transformation. Hartman stresses the importance of refocusing historical inquiry on the changes in the domestic household, as opposed to the changes wrought in foreign policy.

Hartman's analysis makes a strong case that the concept of the "female" changed significantly in households that practiced late marriage. She focuses on the economic and political force that young, single, working citizens (women in particular) exercised and the opportunity for this that was far less likely to exist in a married home. In addition to the political and economic freedom of late marriage, it is argued that when a couple did wed, the ability for the spouses to choose one another indicated a de-centering of male dominance in the home to an equal partnership between spouses. Aside from women choosing husbands that would enable them to plan families or contribute economically to the household (thus ensuring a far more stable home), it is acknowledged that for men to choose a spouse meant giving up the concept of the irrational, emotional, and weak woman. If a marriage was going to succeed and a family was to be raised in safety and affluence, the husband needed to recognize and enable the power of the wife.

Hartman's overall point in this chapter is to emphasize not only the practical changes brought on by late marriage, but to push the investigation of history through the household, as family planning and economic stability for individual households cumulatively effect nations. This reading is best for those seeking good pull quotes about gender, marriage and family, employment and work, and feminism. I mean, the article covers every single theme or topic well, so don't just take my word for it.


  1. I find Harman's argument pretty convincing and historically relevant. I wish that we didn't have to wait for a college class to see how the study of women and of the household can change the perspective of history.

  2. Well, the hope is that university classes influence the next generation of secondary teachers who take those ideas and repackage them for a younger audience. That's the hope. It is a hope that might be dead in the next ten years in England, however. The government there has pulled public funding for history, humanities, and the arts taught at universities.

  3. I agree with both of the comments above. I always wondered why the study of women throughout history was conspicuously absent from traditional history, but, hopefully, we will be the generation that changes things.

    In connection with the Hartman readings, if marrying later increased the control a woman was able to exert over her own circumstances, and that pattern continued throughout history, what is different in today's society (beyond the obvious), and the ideas of masculinity and femininity that make it perfectly okay for women to marry young today(especially at BYU)?