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More Work for Mother: The Ironies of Household Technology from the Open Hearth to the Microwave is a 1983 book in which historian Ruth Schwartz Cowan explores the role of technology in the practice of housework. Although she begins with the origin of the housewife in the thirteenth century, her focus is on the industrialization of housework in the nineteenth century and its further mechanization in the first half of the twentieth, specifically in the United States. Cowan asks what specific work processes housework entailed, how that work was gendered, what technologies and technological systems were implicated in housework, and how and why all of this changed over time.

Cowan's key finding is that technology generally has not reduced the amount of housework done by women, as our image of new technologies as the inevitable sources of greater efficiency would lead us to believe. Rather, new technologies have made possible less work for men, the elimination of servants from middle class homes, and new standards of cleanliness and cuisine. A wonderful early example is the wood-burning stove, which burned less wood than the hearth, reducing men’s contributions to the labor involved in producing a meal, and also allowed women to construct meals out of several dishes cooked simultaneously, making their work more complicated and time-consuming. Cowan also documents a dominant tendency in American culture to keep housework in the home, and the failure of intriguing enterprises which swam against this current, from cooked-food delivery services and commercial laundries to communes and cooperative kitchens.

A classic history of technology book Two Sheds really enjoyed reading as part of his indoctrination. Also, it’s by one of his professors.

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