Inaugural lecture Elise van Nederveen Meerkerk: Where Did All the Workers Go?

Prof. dr. Elise Nederveen Meerkerk. Foto: Ed van Rijswijk
Prof. Elise Nederveen Meerkerk. Photo: Ed van Rijswijk

Prof. Elise van Nederveen Meerkerk is Professor of Economic and Social History at Utrecht University since 1 February 2020. Van Nederveen Meerkerk works in the field of Gender and work in comparative historical perspective. Her inaugural lecture is entitled 'Where did all the workers go? Women, industrialization, and the decline of hand spinning in Europe and Asia'.

The consequences of mechanisation

For millennia, textile production has been performed all over the world by handicraft producers, mostly women. The mechanisation of spinning since the eighteenth century, not only kickstarted the Industrial Revolution, leading to unprecedented productivity gains and economic growth. It also meant that millions of hand spinners lost a vital source of income within a few decades.

Different experiences worldwide

What happened to this vast labour reserve of women around the world? In her inaugural lecture, Van Nederveen Meerkerk explains that regional studies suggest that their experiences differentiated vastly, not only in terms of timing, but also in terms of the nature of women’s subsequent labour market activities.

We know that a share of married women in rapidly industrialising contexts found employment in emerging factories, as was the case in Britain, the USA, and the Netherlands. In some countries, such as Japan and colonial Indonesia, a proportion of married/adult women shifted to intensified hand weaving, while in others, such as India, the surplus of female labour was mostly absorbed into low productive agriculture.

How come?

Van Nederveen Meerkerk thinks these differences both stemmed from, and resulted in, highly regionally diverging paths of economic development, as well as women’s position in the labour market up until the present.

Start date and time
End date and time
Hybrid: online (click here) and for invited guests in the Utrecht University Hall