HILL, BRIDGET. Servants. English Domestics in the Eighteenth Century. Clarendon Press, Oxford 1996. vii, 278 pp. £35.00.
ROMANO, DENNIS. Housecraft and Statecraft. Domestic Service in Renaissance Venice, 1400–1600. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore [etc.] 1996. xxvi, 333 pp. Ill. $54.00.
Over the last two decades, our understanding of domestic service, its changes throughout history and its links to larger political and economical transformations, has been enriched by feminist and historical scholarship. A first step towards a better understanding of domestic work was made when feminists challenged the dominant theoretical bias that formerly had concentrated exclusively on the production process, and argued that the separation of the domestic and the public which occurred with the emergence of capitalism became the root cause of women's subordination. This separation resulted in a situation where anything associated with the domestic became hidden, undervalued and perceived as unimportant. In later debates this dichotomizing framework has been further developed into discussions on the ways in which “the domestic” may shift in content and form; how it may be associated with not only what is conducted within the home, but also with the type of work (domestic work) and the type of people (women) considered as belonging in the home. Although the boundaries separating the domestic and public spheres may perpetually experience shifts, the implications of this separation are considered to be more or less clear, namely the devaluation of women's work and women's identity.