Conducts research and collects data on the global history of labour, workers, and labour relations

Worthy Efforts

In Worthy Efforts Catharina Lis and Hugo Soly offer an innovative approach to the history of perceptions and representations of work in Europe throughout Classical Antiquity and the medieval and early modern periods. Covering the broadest possible range of historical writings to elucidate the subject, and using visual representations as sources of information as well, they address the significance of work for different groups and its impact on their sense of self-esteem and their social identity. The authors reject the standard historical account of perceptions of work. They question the clear distinction generally drawn between Classical Antiquity and subsequent periods, the revolutionary role attributed to Christianity, and the part played by monasticism, Humanism, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment.

Table of Contents


Part I: Antiquity and Christianity: A Polyphonic Heritage

1. Attitudes to Work and Workers in Ancient Greece
Productive Virtue
Specialization and Politics
Freedom and Independence
Non-agrarian Activities: Morality and Meaning
Craftsmanship and Honour
Occupation and Identity
Competing Discourses

2. The Roman Empire: Continuity and Change
The Economy and Elite Values
Freedmen: Wealth and Status
Collegia: Occupation, Status, and Power
Skilled Labour as the Core of Social Identity
Work Ethic
A Provisional Balance

3. Christian Ideologies of Work
‘Great Are these Achievements, and Dinstinctively Human’
‘If Anyone Will Not Work, Then Let Him Not Eat’
Ora et Labora
Naked to Follow the Naked Christ
Slaves of Christ, the Indigent, and Sinners
Workers at the Crossroads of Order and Chaos
Labour in a ‘Calling’

Part II: Workers in Medieval and Early Modern Europe: Images and Self-Images

4. Imagined Peasantries
Contrasting Images
The Place of the Laboratores
Interdependence and Reciprocity
Hierarchy and Inequality
‘When Adam Delved and Eve Span’
Town and Country
The Patriarchical Household and Rural Work
Rural Idyll

5. Commerce: Useful and Honourable Work
The Christian Church: Commerce as Work
Honour versus Profit?
Humanists and the Pursuit of Private Wealth
Urban Middle Groups and Big Business
Self-Images and Self-Representations
Short-Lived Communities of Commerce
The Ideal of a Commercial Society
New Dissonances

6. Artisans: Practice and Theory
Mechanical Arts
Craft Guilds
Urban Corporatism: A World of Distinctions
The ‘Backbone’ of the Corporative World
Idealized Artisans and Imagined Workshops
Self-Conscious Master Artisans
Masters of Design and Original Creators
Theoreticians and Technicians
Fecit et Invenit
‘Intellectual Artists’ and ‘Craftsmen-Artists’
Women Artists: Amateurs or Professionals?
Light Bearing Versus Fruit Bearing
Theory Does Not Labour
The Middling Sort and the Value of Human Labour

7. The Many Faces of Wage-Labour
Labour Laws
‘Living at Their Own Hand’
Undeserving, Masterless Men and Idle Rogues
Employment and the Active Society
The Labouring Poor
What Freedom?
Work and Happiness
Autonomous, Independent, and Self-Sufficient
Collective Action