James Farr

in Renaissance and Reformation

ISBN: 9780195399301
Published online August 2011 | | DOI:

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)
  • Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy


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The historiography of artisans and, to a lesser extent, apprentices in early modern Europe has experienced a renaissance of its own since the mid-1980s. Although a great deal of this literature has focused on the 18th century and therefore lies beyond the chronological scope of this article, a substantial body of important scholarship exists during the Renaissance and the Reformation. Within this literature a handful of classic studies written before the 1980s still prove useful, but the overwhelming number of articles and books to appear since then has completely transformed the field. Conflicted analyses of the craft economy and especially of the role of the institution of the guild within it have led the way, largely because of the “revisionist” debate that continues to engage historians’ energies. Traditionally, historians viewed guilds, because of their regulatory and monopolistc powers, as impediments to economic growth, but revisionist historians have challenged that position. They have found from archival research that the craft economy experienced significant economic growth during the early modern era, that guilds had little to do with it, and that the regulatory and monopolistic practices of guilds were relatively ineffective. This position has in turn been challenged by archival findings that guilds did in fact contribute to growth through innovative economic practices. Many entries in this article address these varying positions, but social, cultural, and gendered approaches to the artisanal experience are also well represented. Geographically, the historiography disproportionately centers on the British Isles, France, Italy, Germany, and more recently the Low Countries. Studies on Spanish artisans are sparse, and their eastern European and Scandinavian counterparts are only slightly better represented in the literature. A global, comparative perspective appears faintly on the horizon and likely will inform more artisanal studies in the future. Judging from the flurry of studies that emerged in the first decade of the 21st century, the historical interest in early modern artisans is vibrant and promises to be so for the foreseeable future.

Article.  14443 words. 

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy

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