If I ever do retire this is what my PhD will be in

It’s a standard part of the historical tale that working hours went up from feudal times to early Industrial Revolution. Working hours have been gently declining since.

Thus we get stories about medieval peasants getting 70 days holiday a year. Err, no, animal owning peasants do not take 70 days off each year. Those that do rapidly become non-animal owning peasants.

They had 70 holy days a year, something rather different.

The problem with the calculations is that they take account only of the market hours worked. For example, Greg Clark did a monograph about hours worked by peasants. But what he was counting was only the work done on the demesne, the Lord’s Land, in lieu of rent. He didn’t include the work the peasant did on his own land.

Another example – spinning. And of course the spinning jenny was one of the major innovations of that Industrial Revolution.

My contention would be that total working hours went down in the IR, even as paid market working hours went up.

This would explain one of the basic conundrums about the time. Why in buggery did people put up with it? Under the standard storyline living standards didn’t change for 50 odd years or so. Yet working hours went up. That’s really a decline in living standards therefore. But if total hours, including household production, went down while incomes stayed static then that’s an increase in living standards. Thus we have an incentive for people to put up with the Dark Satanic Mills.

I could write the story now. But it would take a couple of years to really build the proof by constructing proper time use studies. And thus the PhD I would do if I ever do get to retire….

17 comments on “If I ever do retire this is what my PhD will be in

  1. I read a blog written by a French cattle farmer. The life he leads beggars the mind, and he certainly never has a day’s (or night for that matter in the calving season which lasts months) rest unless he can find a neighbour or someone to tend to his farm.

  2. It may not have been a choice between work on the land or work in the mill.
    The choice was the mill or no work.

    When I saw a replica Spinning Jenny I couldn’t believe something so small and basic kicked off the Industrial Revolution. Fascinating period of history.

  3. Jim W,

    Actually, no.

    If you read The Villages of the White Horse it talks about how the landowners struggled to keep blacksmiths and other skilled workers as they all went off to work at GWR.

    And long into the 20th century there were places that had nothing but farming, like Burford in Oxfordshire, and they were some of the most deprived places in the country.

  4. For research to be honest you should start with the prop with which you agree and then try to falsify it. So assume that hours of labour went down, and try to prove the opposite.

  5. Chatting with my milkman he essentially has one day off a year – to go to a National Farmer’s Union conference.

  6. Why not watch what is happening in modern China and India?

    Peasant farming is no fun at all, plus always prone to ruin from weather, disease or change in consumer tastes.

  7. That’s the way I’d try to run it. Some time surveys of peasants and sweatshop workers. Plus historical research into working patterns.

  8. First world tourists in the developing world get squeamish around urban informal housing, but find rural poverty picturesque, ecologically attractive and demonstrating natural man in touch with life. Fuckwits! Why do they think the rural poor move to the cities?

  9. Your PhD won’t get off to a good start if you assume that “Dark Satanic Mills” were anything to do with factories.

    Apparently it referred to mind-mills, perhaps even to Oxbridge. How do they know? Dunno.

  10. Oh dear, oh dear. Back in them early times the different seasons had different times when light came from the heavens. When it went dark you went to bed. So in summer you worked a lot more than in winter. A small number of people could afford all the palaver and cost of rush or the high cost of candles. Must go for my mid day snooze.

  11. If I were doing it, I’d say it’s the subsequent book (or TV show or whatever) that really counts, not the PhD itself. Knowing the answer is fine, but just getting the question out into the popular culture would be a considerable achievement even if the possible answers were hedged with honest uncertainty.

  12. “Why in buggery did people put up with it? Under the standard storyline living standards didn’t change for 50 odd years or so. Yet working hours went up.”

    Could be that stuff we now think of as twins, e.g health and security, were trade offs back in the day.

    Archaeologists puzzle why early farmers were so much unfit compared to the nomads and pastoralists surrounding them. But being 4 inches taller and having all your own teeth is not much use when you’re dead.

  13. “.. build the proof ..”

    A strange way of thinking about things it seems to me. Suggests an element of fabrication. I would want to “discover the truth”.

    I was trained/educated as a scientist. I don’t know about Tim’s education (not science I think cos he claims not to be very good at sums). But does this reveal something about the different ways people think about the world?

  14. TW: Yes, I get you.

    But it’s like Henry Marsh says above.

    But it seems to me trying to “prove” what you want to be true, could be rather easier than proving something you don’t want to be true.

    Perhaps I’m just being naive – or just petty.

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