Central Question: Who really did the work in colonial America?


Photo, Weavers at Colonial Williamsburg, May 29, 2010, animalvegetable, Flickr

When textbooks discuss colonial labor practices, they most often talk about male work done outside the home. Labor is associated with creating goods for market, allowing men to participate in the "triangle trade"—a network of trade relationships in which raw materials flowed from the Americas to Europe, manufactured goods moved from Europe to Africa, and enslaved Africans were shipped back to the Americas.

This framing, however, misses key topics by:

  • overlooking female labor as central, not peripheral, to the survival of familial and colonial economies;
  • ignoring the different patterns of labor that existed in Native communities; and
  • oversimplifying the complex web of international trade relationships that wove together the Atlantic world.
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