Maria Ågren: Warm welcome to the spring semester and a brief talk on the book ‘The State as Master’

At the very start of this spring semester, we talked to Maria Ågren, Professor of History and one of the three Gender and Work project leaders, about GaW’s activities last semester and her ambition to go on creating a pleasant atmosphere in academia by organizing as well as participating in several conferences throughout this spring semester. Also, she just had her new book published! Let us hear some words from her.


Since we had so many wonderful seminars last semester, how do you feel about that?

I thought it was a great success. We did lots of interesting and important things, organized important events, and brought together people from not only this department but also other departments in Sweden and outside of Sweden. I thought we got a real good feedback from people on what we are doing, and I felt that the Gender and Work project is an asset to other scholars. It is not just that we received things from the people we have invited but also that we give something—inspiration and ideas. That of course feels great. So, I am very pleased for last semester.

Is there any difference between the last semester and other previous semesters?

Yes. I think maybe we have a little more events last autumn than we usually have. We generally have at least one event per month. But in the autumn semester we had not only those regular events but also the workshop in the beginning of November and we had the meeting last week [the meeting with GaW’s scientific advisory board], which is also kind of a workshop really. So, maybe the activities level was a little higher. But in principle, this is a kind of activities that we always have.

What are the plans for the spring semester?

We have at least three conferences coming up. There is a huge conference that takes place once every two years, which is the European Social Science and History conference. This time it will take place in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Many GaW people are going there to take part in various sessions. I am going there, for instance, and Karin and others.

Then, not long after, there is a conference in Glasgow, Scotland, which is called Invisible Hands. It is specifically on women’s work. The Belfast one is about economic and social history in general. The Glasgow conference is a big one considering that the theme is women’s work only. So, both young and senior scholars from all parts of the world are coming together and there will be a special session devoted to the Gender and Work project, where we will get to present our ongoing work and a number of papers. So, a spotlight will really be on the GaW project and that is great. Also, many other more senior scholars and personal friends of me from English, French, and Spanish universities will come there. So, it will be great for me to meet them. Also, my daughter lives in Glasgow so it will be great to meet her.

The third conference is something that the Gender and Work project organizes, and it will take place in Stockholm. It is hosted by the Swedish Royal Academy of Letters, History, and Antiquities. It will be a very focused workshop conference with our project, LUMEN, a Danish project about Lutherans mentality and its effects on social structure and social development in the Nordic countries, and a group of Swiss scholars headed by Joachim Eichbach. Their project is called Doing House and Households. They also have this focus on studying people’s practices, what people actually do, and the activities. These three research groups will convene in Stockholm. It will be great for young scholars and Ph.D. students because there will be a lot of time for them to present their ongoing work. The result may be some kinds of publication.

These three events are really the three big things that will happen during the spring as far as we know now. But also, one of the members of the Scientific Advisory Board, Danielle van den Heuvel, has a very interesting project where they compare public spaces like streets in Amsterdam and Tokyo in the early modern period. They are also very interested in mapping people’s doing, what they did in the streets with special emphasis on women. That is very interesting, and the project has been inspired methodologically by GaW, so they would very much likely to come here to look at the database and discuss the nitty gritty thing of doing this kind of research. So, hopefully we will be able to squeeze in a visit from them too some time during the spring semester.


It [the book] links the question about gender and work specifically to state formation and also to some extent to commercialization, the growing of markets and what these two processes meant to people and their chances of supporting themselves.


May we hear some words from you about your newly published book ‘The State as Master’?

It is actually that book that I am going to talk about at the Belfast conference and it is a book about how state formation affected ordinary people and ordinary households in many different ways, but also how ordinary people and ordinary households were essential for the success of state formation. Of course, state formation is a big theme in the historiography of early modern Europe, because state formation was such a conspicuous aspect of what was going on and often it is described in terms of wars, big battles, and powerful kings and rulers. But really for these states to work and to become more powerful, they had to harness the resources that ordinary people represented.

This book is about customs official families in a small Swedish town, although I draw upon other areas as well. It is really about what the men did, what the women did, and conflicts and problems that these families encountered because they were the servants of the state. Because people in general didn’t like servant of the state because they extracted tax and customs and things like that. That is the focus. It is of course a part of the Gender and Work project, but it links the question about gender and work specifically to state formation and also to some extent to commercialization, the growing of markets and what these two processes meant to people and their chances of supporting themselves. That is what the book is about.

Would you say that this book is related to the seventh chapter of the book ‘Making a Living, Making a Difference’?

Yes, it is. The seventh chapter of the book Making a Living, Making a Difference was written by Marie Lennersand, Jan Mispelaere, Christopher Pihl, and me. We drew on our respective work to discuss exactly the topic of state formation. So, that chapter is broader in a way because it draws on several types of example, not just of customs officials’ families. Perhaps one could say that the chapter is a little more superficial. So, the book The State as Master delves much deeper into the realities of customs officials’ families. ⧫


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