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Since 2015, Mark Hailwood and I have been collaborating on a project, funded first by the Leverhulme Trust and then by the European Research Council, that collects evidence of work tasks from the court documents of early modern England, developing a methodology which has many similarities to modern time-use studies. The work task database is now complete and contains records of 9650 tasks and the people who undertook them from south-west, northern and east-central England between 1500-1700. In this paper I focus how this approach to the history of work challenges existing ideas about the early modern economy and its development over time. In doing so, I argue for a more inclusive definition of work, and explore the implications of our findings for two areas in particular, women’s work and changing occupational structures. The findings demonstrate the involvement of women in all areas of the economy and prompt a re-evaluation of the history of housework and care-work. The range of tasks undertaken by men with different occupational titles is analysed, demonstrating the degree to which those with non-agricultural occupations remained involved in agricultural work, as well as combining crafts, commerce, and transport. Overall, our results show very little change over time at the level of the work task, which suggests a new perspective for characterising preindustrial economic development.

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