Wealth and Work in Early Modern Britain (HISM035)

StaffProfessor Henry French - Lecturer
Dr Tawny Paul - Lecturer
Professor Jane Whittle - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level7
Duration of Module Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

The module looks at different forms of work that supported the household: paid and unpaid, men’s and women’s, domestic service and casual work. It compares wealth between households, using taxation and probate documents; examines the debt and credit relationships supported and undermined household economies; and the connection between consumption patterns and wealth. At the heart of the module is an understanding of how individual household economies interacted with the wider economy, asking what was the consequence of increased commercialization and changing patterns of consumption, and what did it mean to be wealthy or poor, at the level of people’s lived experience.

The module involves close work with early modern documents, particularly wills, inventories, probate accounts, household accounts, diaries, advice books, taxation returns, business and debt litigation and court depositions. The assessed essay and presentation will include the detailed analysis of primary sources.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. Locate and evaluate critically the relevant primary and secondary source materials required to investigate a specific historical or methodological question.
  • 2. Demonstrate a detailed knowledge of key themes and approaches in the study of wealth and work in early modern Britain.

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. Demonstrate the ability to analyse and synthesise widely different types of historical material and evidence.
  • 4. Identify and understand the nature of original sources.
  • 5. Demonstrate a critical understanding of key historical concepts and debates.
  • 6. Research for themselves and present independent accounts and interpretations of different historical issues.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. Develop the capacity for independent critical study and thought.
  • 8. Apply key bibliographical skills (including the use of on-line finding aids).
  • 9. Construct and defend a sustained argument, both in written form and orally, using primary and secondary materials.
  • 10. Work as an individual and with a tutor and peers in an independent, constructive and responsive way (e.g. lead a group discussion or task).

Syllabus plan

Exact syllabus may vary year to year but the module will examine topics such as:


The early modern household

The household economy

Men’s and women’s work

Servants in the household

Wealth and social structure

Wealth and consumption patterns

Worth and value

Lending and borrowing money

The commercialisation of the household

The growth of casual wage labour

The poor laws and pauper household economies

The consumer revolution

Indebtedness and its consequences

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities2211 x 2 hour seminars.
Guided independent study278Preparation for seminars, essays and presentations.

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Seminar discussionOngoing1-10Oral through discussion with peers and tutor

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay674000 words1-10Oral and written
Individual Presentation3320 minutes and 1,000 word reflective commentary1-10Oral and written

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
PresentationScript as for 20 minute presentation and 1,000 word reflective commentary1-10Referral/deferral period

Re-assessment notes

The re-assessment consists of one 4,000 word essay, as in the original assessment, but replaces the individual presentation with a written script and accompanying visual aids that could be delivered in such a presentation and which is the equivalent of 20 minutes of speech. Instead of reflecting on the delivery of the presentation and its reception, as in the original assessment, the reflective commentary will explore the objectives and intended delivery methods of the presentation.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

  • Maria Ågren (ed.), Making a Living, Making a Difference: Gender and Work in Early Modern European Society (Oxford U.P., 2016)
  • Amy Erickson, Women and Property in Early Modern England (Routledge, 1993)
  • Henry French, The Middle Sort of People in Provincial England (Oxford U.P., 2007)
  • Natasha Glaisyer, The Culture of Commerce in England, 1660-1720 (Boydell, 2006)
  • Steve Hindle, On the Parish? The Micro-Politics of Poor Relief in Rural England c.1550-1750 (Oxford U.P., 2004)
  • Margaret Hunt, The Middling Sort: Commerce, Gender and the Family in England 1680-1780 (Caifornia U.P., 1996)
  • Marjorie McIntosh, Working Women in English Society 1300-1620 (Cambridge U.P., 2005)
  • Tim Meldrum, Domestic Service and Gender 1660-1750: Life and Work in the London Household, (Harlow, 2000)
  • Craig Muldrew, The Economy of Obligation: The Culture of Credit and Social Relations in Early Modern England (Basingstoke, 1998)
  • Craig Muldrew, Food, Energy and Industriousness: Work and Material Culture in Agrarian England 1550-1780 (Cambridge, 2011)
  • M. Overton, J. Whittle, D. Dean and A. Hann, Production and Consumption in English Households, 1600-1750, (Routledge, London, 2004)
  • Carole Shammas, The Pre-Industrial Consumer in England and America, (OUP, Oxford, 1990)
  • Alexandra Shepard, Accounting for Oneself: Worth, Status and the Social Order in Early Modern England (Oxford U.P., 2015)
  • Cathryn Spence, Women, Credit and Debt in Early Modern Scotland (Manchester U.P. 2016)
  • L. Weatherill, Consumer Behaviour and Material Culture in Britain 1660-1760, (Routledge, London, 1988)
  • Jane Whittle and Elizabeth Griffiths, Consumption and Gender in the Early Seventeenth-Century Household: The World of Alice Le Strange (Oxford U. P., 2012).
  • Keith Wrightson, Earthly Necessities: Economic Lives in Early Modern Britain (Yale U.P., 2000)
  • Keith Wrightson ed., A Social History of England 1500-1750 (Cambridge U.P., 2017)

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

London Lives: https://www.londonlives.org/

Old Bailey Online: https://www.oldbaileyonline.org/

Cause Papers, Church Courts of the diocese of York: https://www.hrionline.ac.uk/causepapers/

Bibliography of British and Irish History. Link via Exeter Library lib.exeter.ac.uk/search~S6/v?History

British History Online. Link via Exeter Library lib.exeter.ac.uk/search~S6/v?History

Connected Histories: http://www.connectedhistories.org/resource.aspx

Defining Gender. Link via Exeter Library lib.exeter.ac.uk/search~S6/v?History

Historical Texts: http://0-historicaltexts.jisc.ac.uk.lib.exeter.ac.uk/

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

Household, wealth, work, gender, debt, poverty, commerce, family