Child and Adolescent Labor before the Factory: Lifecycle Service

While child labor in the Western world gained increasing attention--and criticism--in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it was hardly new. In many regions of both Europe and the Americas, labor outside the parental home figured prominently in many young people’s lives and was critical in shaping their future prospects. Apprentices and domestic servants, for example, were generally young people who moved temporarily into other households or institutions during their teenage years. They were not alone; males and females in urban as well as rural settings engaged in a variety of types of “lifecycle service.” Pronounced differences existed across regions and social strata, however, and scholars have debated the degrees of relative exploitation and opportunity that such “lifecycle service” entailed. This seminar will explore some of these issues concerning young people’s labor in the preindustrial West from the Renaissance through Enlightenment eras (roughly, sixteenth through eighteenth centuries).