UROP in History: Women as Property Owners in Early Modern Southern France

Wed, 08/09/23
UROP in History: Women as Property Owners in Early Modern Southern France

UROP in History: Women as Property Owners in Early Modern Southern France

Caroline Hackett, a PhD candidate in early modern French history, directed a UROP project on the relation between women and property in Old Regime Languedoc. This region in the south of France had a legal tradition, influenced by Roman law, that allowed women, including married women, to own, inherit, and dispose of property; they were actively and openly entrepreneurial.

During her fieldwork in France, Caroline took 1000s of pictures of primary sources, especially tax and notarial records, providing evidence for women owning property. When Caroline returned from France, she decided to create a UROP project that allowed her to mentor undergraduate students working with these primary sources.

This was the first time that Caroline directed a UROP project. She created two research trajectories based on the skills of the two students she accepted. Emily is a first-year International Affairs and Human Rights major. She is interested in current politics/ policies, and how history has shaped those. Heesu is a first-year History major who reads French and is interested in the culture of this region of France, Occitania.

How did you find out about UROP and what made you apply?

Heesu: I received an email. I wanted to experience undergraduate research in my first year. I have always been interested in history, especially how societies have changed over time. I want to combine my passion for history with my love of food and study food history.

Emily: I was contacted even before I set foot on campus about this opportunity to get involved at FSU. Applying was very easy. I am very interested in History, and I really liked Caroline’s mentorship statement. She wanted her students to be involved in the project; that appealed to me.

Heesu: I wanted to be a part of UROP to give me research experience. I want to do an Honors in the Major project later. I wanted to get more experience with reading old documents, which I had not done before.

What are you working on specifically?

Emily: I was particularly interested in the property sale records. I worked on the number of women buying and selling property and how that translated into political influence. I looked at the value of property when women were selling to men, and men were selling to women. I found that when women were selling to men, property values were higher than when men were selling to women.

Heesu: I analyzed tax records from the city of Montpellier. About 830 people were listed for the city. I noted down all the women listed in the tax records together with their statuses, whether they were married, widowed, or noble, and how much they paid. I discovered that 19% of the taxpayers were women. The women came from all walks of life.

What sort of records are you working with? What type of research are you doing?

Heesu: I am working with pictures from archival records that Caroline took during her research period in Montpellier. I read French.

I knew that there were cultural differences between northern and southern France, but I did not know how much influence, how many rights, women had in the south. Neither had I realized that there was more religious freedom in the south.

Emily: Caroline gave me an Excel sheet based on a huge ledger of property transactions that she had translated. It spanned 20 years. I did a data analysis of the material she gave me. While I read Spanish and Italian, I don’t have French. I did not know how politically diverse France was. I assumed that women were subservient in the entire country. I had not realized that there was such a difference between the north and the south of France, mainly because of the different legal structures.

Caroline: Before they started the primary source analysis, Emily and Heesu went through the secondary literature, putting together annotated bibliographies that covered background for the period. That was helpful for me, as that is the literature I need to be in conversation with, and it gave them the historical context for their research.

How does the UROP project work?

Caroline: We meet every six weeks in person, and in between we email frequently. I assign them tasks with due dates and ask Emily and Heesu to keep me updated with their progress, their findings, their questions. So, it is a ‘work on your own schedule but meet this deadline’ set up.

Emily: In the beginning, when we did a lot of reading and looking through secondary sources, that was sometimes hard to combine with doing the readings for my other classes. But overall, it was pretty easy to manage.

Heesu: I worked on the tax records whenever I had a moment. Usually between classes and assignments.

What was the most challenging part of the UROP project?

Heesu: Definitely the cursive script, the handwriting. The French itself was not that difficult but deciphering the cursive writing was hard. Plus, some people really had bad penmanship. Sometimes it was true guesswork. Especially with names, it was not always easy to decide what gender the person was. Over time I got better at it, I recognized key words and could work faster. But in the beginning, it was hard.

Emily: Yes, like Heesu, for me it was specific terminology. In particular, with property sales there were specific words for different types of property – and I had no idea what they meant! Sometimes I could google a term, but often I did not find anything. That was challenging.

What is your favorite part about the UROP experience?

Heesu: Honestly – the same thing. Although it was hard to read the material, it was also a challenge to see how much I could understand, and to realize that it was getting easier over time.

Emily: I agree. Even though it was difficult, it was a very rewarding process. I think it is important to look at historical documents to help us make better decisions for the future.

Has the project changed your view of history?

Heesu: I was surprised to use tax records to gauge the participation of people in society. Also, to realize how much women participated in the economy at this time, directly, without a male guardian.

Emily: I came to realize that generalizations in history are not good. The tax and sales records allowed me to see the daily lives of people at the time, to see how people were living at the time.

Are you thinking of continuing to do research?

Emily: Yes, but a different type of research. I still want to do research with history but tie it more directly to my interest in modern politics. I would be interested in conducting surveys, to allow me to get involved in the community.

Heesu: Yes, I don’t know what yet though. I definitely want to do the HITM.

What is your advice for students who are interested in UROP?

Emily: When you are reviewing UROP projects, don’t just focus on the topic of a project, look at the skills that you need to bring to it, and the tasks that you will be doing. Think whether you are good at what is being asked of you.

Heesu: Stay focused and complete all the tasks that have been assigned to you.

What was presenting at the Undergraduate Research Symposium like?

Emily: It was very overwhelming. I did not expect to have all the posters lined up at the research symposium and to have so much research on display. But overall, it was fun.

Heesu: It was kind of nerve wracking to think about, but when we got there, it was fine. We did not have to deal with too many people at any one time.