Jane Humphries, “History from Underneath: Girls and the Industrial Revolution » (10 déc.)

Jeudi 10 décembre à 17h : Jane Humphries (Oxford), “History from Underneath: Girls and the Industrial Revolution »

Investigations of the effects of industrialisation on young people usually (reflecting the sources available) focus on boys and young men.  Yet historians are suspicious that girls, while relatively disadvantaged in working-class households, still contributed to  ‘the story of Europe’s path to industrial development’ (Maynes et al, 2005, 5) . This paper investigates the position of girls in working-class families using working-class life writing, comparing women’s stories with those of men (Humphries, 2010).  It asks how the expectations and stresses of family life impacted on girls, and whether this left them disadvantaged relative to their brothers in seizing the opportunities and fending off the threats to wellbeing occasioned by economic change.  My comparative review reveals many similarities between boy and girls’ experiences but some important differences.  Girls shared in the dip in age at starting work that earlier work has shown boys experienced in the early nineteenth century, but throughout the period studied, they had less education and narrower job opportunities.  One startling finding concerns the unsettling evidence of girls’ greater vulnerability to sexual predation, which in turn provided constraints on how women lived their lives. Moreover, the gendering of life chances spilled over from the economic to the demographic, for maternity looms over the women’s accounts, a destiny shared with mothers who had faced the same horrors of childbirth without effective medical assistance or analgesics. Girls anticipated the gendered trials and tribulations which their mothers endured and this united them. 


Jane Humphries est professeure retraitée d’histoire économique à l’université d’Oxford. Elle est notamment l’auteure de Childhood and Child Labour in the British Industrial Revolution (Cambridge University Press, 2011). Sur le même sujet, elle a  co-écrit et présenté le documentaire de BBC4, The Children Who Built Victorian Britain (disponible sur YouTube).

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