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Exploring Labor in the 14th-16th Centuries

This summer Margo Kolenda-Mason (pictured with Cecilia Morales -- research story below) spent two weeks in London visiting the British Library, Guildhall Library (which houses materials for the London Metropolitan Archives), and The National Archives in Kew,  where she learned an immense amount about working with archival finding aids, how these different institutions organize and catalogue their material, and general practices of conducting archival research.

At the British Library, she saw the Harley 913 manuscript, which contains a unique copy of a poem she is working on, “Lullay, lullay, litil child.” Being restricted material, she could not photograph it, “But it was exciting to hold this book in my hands and get a clearer sense of the kind of object it was. I made my own transcription of the poem and its Latin counterpoint and also a digital drawing of the rubrication, decorations, and marginal marks.”

Margo is primarily interested in labor legislation and breaches of such regulations. She transcribed the 1474 “Ordinance for Regulating Carpenters, Masons and other Laborers at Calais,” which included salaries, hours, and holidays, as well as the ways masters and wardens were held accountable for their managerial practices. She also reviewed lists of offences against labor regulations between 1327 and 1377, which included over 1,500 names and fines, suggesting that legislation did not necessarily change people’s attitudes toward labor.

Building off her dissertation, Margo began researching botchers, English craftspeople who mended and repaired old clothing but were excluded from the guild system. Her initial leads came up dry, but one sent her into the Great Wardrobe of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, which took her to books of wards and liveries, books of fines from the lord Remembrancer, yearly accounts of the Great Wardrobe, Warrants Subsidary to those accounts, account books of Cofferers, Controllers, Exchequers and the Treasurer of Chambers. Still nothing! But she did find lists of wages from 1569-1570 for such occupations as Mole Taker, Ratcatcher, and Iron Kep, as well as a list of 1588-1589 household expenses (sugar, lemons, saffron, etc) that may spark future projects.