Life as we know it today in the modern world, is significantly different to the lives that our predecessors lived during the period 1500-1800. The changes across the centuries are the result of a process of advancements over time. This essay will examine life in the period 1500-1800 as highlighted in the work of George Blainey (2000) and will compare key differences of life in this early period, against life in the modern world today. Throughout this essay, the main focus will be based on three areas which have seen significant change over this period of time: the production of food, work practices and the standard of living. The advancements in these three areas, has led to societies living very different lifestyles in the current modern times. Day to day life in the period 1500-1800 revolved around hunting, collecting and cultivating food in order to survive. Grain made up 80% of most people’s diet and was used to make bread, beer, damper or gruel and in particularly lean times, was mixed with water to relieve hunger (Blainey 2000, p. 410). Bread and beer were the basis of most people’s diet.
Bread was so important to everyday survival that a baker could be hanged for selling an underweight loaf of bread. Blainey (2000) describes a life where most families owned no land, or if they did, it tended to be too small to sustain their food needs. The main priority was to provide enough food to feed their small communities and everyone, including women and children had to assist in this. As highlighted by Blainey (2000), most people worked on the land and the majority of work revolved around the production of food. Successful grain harvests were imperative to survival and everybody had to work together to reap, bind, carry and store the harvest. Woman and children did much of the rural work, such as weeding, carting water, spinning fibres, brewing beer, gathering firewood and making clothes. Many men as well as unmarried woman, left their own small farms or communities to go and work on larger farms or at different trades, which often incorporated meals as part of their payment (Blainey 2000, p. 409). While these workers could be sure of not going hungry, this meant the take home wages were low.
Living standards as described by Blainey (2000) were bleak. Most people lived in one roomed, small stone houses, often with four or more sharing one bed. Homes often remained unheated due to scarcity of wood (Blainey 2000, p. 423). People were largely uneducated and knew little about healthcare. Sewerage was disposed of in the same rivers that were used to drink and wash from. These contaminated rivers were used to supply water to the growing crops. This had a huge impact on health, causing infection in around two out of every three people in rural areas (Blainey 2000, p. 415). Lack of hygiene and knowledge of healthcare led to shorter lifespans. Life today in 2014 is vastly different to the period 1500-1800 as described by Blainey (2000). Survival no longer hinges on hunting and gathering food. In fact many people today give little or no thought to food production. Instead, we drive to a supermarket and buy whatever we want to eat. We have access to many restaurants and fast food outlets, so we not only have ample food at our fingertips, we don’t even have to prepare it if we choose not to.
Advancements in production and using machines in place of humans (Henslin, Possamai and Possamai-Inesedy 2011, p. 139) mean food is now farmed and produced on a much larger scale (Macionis and Plummer 2012, p. 113), this has freed people up to work in other areas. Now that people are not tied to working to produce food to survive, they have more time to get educated and learn new skills. Work in modern times has moved away from farming. Today’s society is an industrial and information based one that revolves more around accumulating wealth and material possessions (Henslin, Possamai and Possamai-Inesedy 2011, p. 140). Woman as well as men, work outside the home in many different varied jobs, and children attend school. This is immensely different to life as discussed by Blainey (2000) whereby woman and children were home working on the land while men worked tending the harvest and work all revolved around food production.
Living standards in today’s world are likewise very different than the period Blainey (2000) describes. In modern societies, many people live in homes that are large, with many rooms, furnished and full of material possessions. These homes often have heating and cooling at the push of a button, along with toilets, showers, clean running water and pantries stocked with food. They have warm beds to sleep in at night and clothing to wear that they don’t have to make themselves. Amongst their many possessions, people have cars to get where there want to go and televisions to watch. There are computers and mobile phones to keep in touch with family and friends. There are health systems and education available to many societies. It is much more common for people to own their homes in these more modern times, (Henslin, Possamai and Possamai-Inesedy p. 140) along with other possessions such as cars.
In conclusion, life in modern times is very different than life was in the period 1500-1800. People from the period 1500-1800 worked to produce food to survive. People lived in poverty, ill heath was common, as was hunger. Advancements in technology have made this a thing of the past in many areas, although there are still societies where poverty does still exist. Although the world in the period 1500-1800 as described by Blainey (2000), was a great deal tougher than modern society, it was much less complicated than the world of today with all its technology. Many people live a privileged life these days, however today’s societies have lost a lot of the family closeness of working together that those in the period 1500-1800 had to have to survive. Progress will continue as the years go on, bringing with it both good and bad consequences.
Blainey, G 2000, A Short History of the World, Viking, Ringwood. Henslin, J, Possamai, A & Possamai-Inesedy, A 2011, Sociology: A down-to-earth approach, Pearson, Frenchs Forest NSW. Macionis J & Plummer, K 2012, Sociology: a global introduction, 5th edn, Pearson Prentice Hall, Harlow. Povos Indigenas no Brasil n.d., Yanomami family, digital image, viewed 22 November 2014, .
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