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How Has Daily Life Changed Since 1800?

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How has daily life changed since 1800?

Since the dawn of time the world has been evolving. So to have the people and how they live, work and survive. In today’s modern world we take so much for granted it’s hard to imagine having to work from dusk to dawn six days a week so that you may be able to provide a basic meal for your family. The purpose of this essay is to explore just a few of the key differences between the period of 1500-1800 and today’s modern world. It will provide a summary of Blaineys (Blainey, 2000) writings and outline key features of this period as well as highlighting several key differences between then and now. These differences will show how we have come so far that we wouldn’t be able to comprehend the low quality of life from the past.
Blainey’s (Blainey, 2000) chapter on ‘Dethroning the Harvest’ goes into detail about how people lived, worked and survived during the period of 1500-1800. Blainey (Blainey, 2000) states that during this period “Daily life, in every part of the world, centred on the production of food.” (Blainey, 2000, p. 410). The world revolved around bringing home the harvest and, as it was mostly a once-a-year event, it was something that everyone was involved in. Grain, being the main food source, was literally the life-bread of the world. It was used to provide bread, porridge, soup and beer. During this period, tea and coffee was still a luxury and therefore beer was the commonplace drink. It was served with most meals and adults and children alike drank it each day. A failed harvest meant a long, hungry winter for the population. Blainey (Blainey, 2000) mentions that ‘In Finland in the 1690s a long famine killed one-third of the people’ (Blainey, 2000, p. 411).

Sanitation wasn’t very high up on people’s list at the time. This is in part due to the Black Death where people became suspicious of public baths. In 1387, Frankfurt held thirty nine baths but within a century and a half it had dropped to only nine (Blainey, 2000, p. 415). In Europe, refuse was mainly dumped in the river where it floated down-steam and polluted someone else’s washing or drinking water. Blainey (Blainey, 2000, p. 416) notes that in eastern Asia, sewage was “often carted to the surrounding fields and put on the soil as fertiliser” (Blainey, 2000) and whilst this may have been good for the soil it caused digestive infections. As there wasn’t always a forest nearby wood was scarce. Blainey (Blainey, 2000) states that “Cheap firewood in the year 1500 was more vital to the average home than cheap oil was to be in the year 2000” (Blainey, 2000, p. 423). Between 1750 and 1850 there was a dramatic change. As new fuels were discovered and used and new methods of transport invented, more land was available for the growing of food for human consumption. (Blainey, 2000, p. 428). Whilst these improvements changed traditions and the way of life the benefits far outweighed any concerns.

One of the key differences between the period Blainey (Blainey, 2000) writes about and today was the diet. Between 1500-1800 the typical household’s diet was more than 80% grain” and “In England, home-brewed beer, drunk at nearly every meal, was almost as essential as bread in the daily diet” (Blainey, 2000, p. 411). Today, the comparison couldn’t be more different. Grain is no longer a larger part of everyday life, with the exception of bread, and beer is definitely not acceptable to drink at every meal. In fact, whilst in the 1700’s beer was cheaper than tea or coffee, today beer is far more expensive. Today’s leaning towards fast foods and instant meals means that we have a wildly different diet. Although we have more food and access to better water. The food and drink that we consume today is probably nowhere near as healthy as it was back then.
The way people work and where they work also differs drastically from the earlier period. According to Blainey “In 1800, in the whole world, a few millions were still nomadic hunters and gatherers but most were farmers” (Blainey, 2000, p. 410) and Henslin, Possamai, and Possamai-Inesedy state “Work, too, has changed. In agrarian societies, most men and women work in the home and on the land.” (Henslin, Possamai, & Possamai-Inesedy, 2011, p. 114). Today most people work in offices, on computers and telephones and rarely work out in the open. The fact that people now have to travel to their jobs and don’t work within the family circle has caused the loss of “close working relationships and stong kinship ties, as well as many of the traditional values, beliefs and customs that guide agrarian life.” (Henslin, Possamai, & Possamai-Inesedy, 2011, p. 114). Advances and technology have been and continue to be benficial to the way things are done, however it has brought about a generation that lacks conversational skills, doesn’t experience the real world and impacts on family life.
Although the populations were rising in Europe in the early 1600s disasters such as war swept through populations and culling them drastically.during the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) Gemany lost perhaps one-third of it’s population (Blainey, 2000, p. 416). Although wars were fought in different ways, the effect could be devestating to a population. As it was only men that fought, for one side to be wiped out would mean no male labour back at home. This in turn would mean less crops, income and protection for the surviving families. Today, our wars are fought mainly from a distance with airplanes, tanks, intercontinental missiles and neuculear warheads. Although we still have troops on the ground, the fighting is a lot less personal. It is also a lot more dangerous – “Should nations ever unleash even a fraction of their present stockpiles of nuclear weapons, human society would almost cerntainly regress to a technologically primitive state if, indeed, we survirvived at all.” (Henslin, Possamai, & Possamai-Inesedy, 2011, p. 117).

In conclusion, life since the 1800’s has changed in such a way that to imagine the world back then is nearly impossible. Yes we have made technological advances that have improved our way of life, through medicines, industry, infrastructure and technology, but has it made our society better? Everything is needed faster, smaller, lighter and more disposable. People spend the majority of their day in front of one kind of screen or another, be it a computer, tablet, mobile phone or television. Verbal and written communication is fast becoming a foreign thing to our children. Yet we have a longer life expectancy, equality, better housing and sanitation, more food and less disease. I wonder, though, if things weren’t in some way better back in the 1500-1800s. Yes the work was harder and the pay less. Yes you could freeze or starve (or indeed both) in winter and yes you rarely had the right to think for yourself. But you did have family, comradeship and values. You worked or you died. There were no government handouts. I believe that in some ways our lives are so much better in the 21st century but I do sometimes wish I was born in a much, much simpler time.

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.

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