From Unit of Production to Unit of Consumption: The Household Economy and the Role of Household Technology

Cowan’s chapter “Twentieth-Century Changes in Household Technology” in her book More Work For Mother, discusses the transition in the household economy due to the invention and application of new technologies into the home, and what this transition meant for the homemaker. She begins by stating that the accepted model for this transition is from the household economy moving “from a unit of production to a unit of consumption” (p.70) The conventional model holds that as these technologies, divided into 8 interlocking groups, moved production from the home to the factory. However, she says that while the first three, food production, clothing production, and medical care follow this model. The other five: transportation, water, gas, electricity, and petroleum products don’t follow the conventional model. In fact these innovations in the home served to entrench gender roles, while occupying women in many other and novel tasks within the household economy.

Whereas the movement of home production of food, clothing, and medical care to the factory and hospital alleviated the home and women of many of their daily tasks, the last five increased the amount of work women had around the home. The introduction of indoor plumbing and electricity removed the drudgery of such tasks as hauling water, and cutting firewood and fuel to heat it. However these tasks were often performed by men or children, who now had more available time to work outside the home or pursue other activities. This left women the tasks of maintaining the home largely to themselves, only compounded by the revolution in transportation. Women drove cars, and often made more frequent and more time-consuming trips into town or to local retail stores.

More importantly these innovations, especially in laundry and the addition of the bathroom into the home created more tasks for the women to perform. With laundry now being much less time-consuming, the washing was done more often, alleviating the drudgery of laundry but not the amount of work to be done. The bathroom presented a different problem, here was another room to be cleaned and made sanitary in order to keep the family healthy. Electricity and electric appliances made the task of cooking, and cleaning easier, however the expectation (influenced heavily by advertising and media) was that women cleaned more frequently and prepared more complex and diverse meals in the home.

Because of these new expectations and requirements to support and maintain a home, the amount of work needed to be done around the house increased in volume even if it decreased in intensity. Cowan holds that because of this, far from freeing women in the home, and moving the home from a “unit of production to a unit of consumption” women were engaged in more tasks around the house. This was compounded by the stratification and division of labor between men and women in the home. The role of the household as a unit of production, namely the production of a healthy home and family, was still the same even if the labor required for production was less labor-intensive.

Word Count: 505

 

The Essential Practice of Historical Revisionism-

The concept of historical revisionism is rife with pejorative and negative connotations, as James McPherson notes in his article in the American Historical Association “Revisionist Historians”.  Oftentimes the concept is equated with deliberate and malicious reworking of historical narratives to serve a purpose, whether political or ideological. His specific reference to this phenomenon in modern times is the Administration of President Bush in 2003 stating that criticism for the war in Iraq was coming from those who were deliberately revising history in order to cast a negative light on a controversial war. This attempt to cast historical revisionism in a negative light is damaging to the process of writing and investigating history, and undermines the work of many professional historians who engage in historical revisionism as an essential process in the field.

McPherson argues that in fact historical revisionism is an important, and integral part in seeking to learn the truth, or gain a different perspective on historical events. To not engage in the process of analyzing new data and evidence, view an event from a “different lens”, or consider that certain accepted facts or narratives may be fabrications would be equivalent to historians actively choosing not to do their job. This negative connotation may in part be due to the related but different practice of negationism or denial, the practitioners of which deliberately lump themselves into the revisionist school of thought in order to lend credibility to their claims. Often denial and negation in the field of history are self-serving, whether for political or ideological reasons.

The practice of historical revisionism is crucial in presenting an objective, academic, and truth based narrative on a particular historical event. The historian must be willing to look at history, and accepted narratives, and be willing to adapt their perspective based on new evidence, or analyze an event from a different perspective. While this may be difficult and challenge long held notions about a historical event, figure, or process; as the Conger article “How Revisionist History Works” notes, it is absolutely essential in the practice of truly academic historical pursuit. We, as amateur historians, must be willing to accept that our preconceived notions may not be an absolute, or follow a particular worldview which we are accustomed to. In order to engage in academic historical work we have to be able to adapt and accept new evidence, counter-claims, and varied perspectives in order to maintain objectivity in our work.

Word Count: 406

Sources:

“Revisionist Historians | AHA”. 2017. Historians.Org. Accessed September 14 2017. https://www.historians.org/publications-and-directories/perspectives-on-history/september-2003/revisionist-historians.

Myth, History. 2009. “How Revisionist History Works”. Accessed September 14 2017. http://history.howstuffworks.com/history-vs-myth/revisionist-history.htm.

 

 

Objectivity and Bias in the Study of History: Is Objectivity Achievable?

The article I was assigned to read and critique dealt with explaining the practice of history as a scientific endeavor, rather than as a subsection of literature. The author, Mamta Aggarwal, begins her argument by stating that when writing or studying history it is inevitable that there will be subjectivity and personal bias. Her argument is centered on her understanding of human nature as being naturally biased to the perspective, society, faith, political views and personal experience of the historian studying any event in history.

She further argues that for each individual historian the narrative they inherently bring to the table when analyzing an event will always cloud their analysis and their conclusions about the event. Her conclusion is that while it may be impossible to totally remove bias from the equation when studying a historical event, there are methods to use that can limit these biases, and provide a more balanced and objective understanding of the event.

While I am inclined to agree with her premise that you cannot totally erase bias when studying history, I think she takes a particularly negative view on the objectivity of history. Perhaps it is her background in India, and her experience of dealing with colonial and imperial history written from the British perspective that gives her an aggreived stance on the study of history in general. This aggreived stance is justifiable, and I can understand her persepctive, however I think she herself is bringing a slew of her own subjective biases in writing this article. I do think that historians, while unable to write pure, absolute, and totally objective historical narratives, are able to provide reasonably objective conclusions and understanding of historical events. Granted that they police themselves during the source finding, source analysis and are willing to submit that they have biases which they must be aware of when writing or studying history. She lists this as a potential means to make history more objective, but seems to think it is an impossible task.

“Objectivity And Bias In The Study Of History”. 2013. History Discussion – Discuss Anything About History. Accessed September 4 2017. http://www.historydiscussion.net/history/objectivity-and-bias-in-the-study-of-history/632.

Word Count: 350