Artisan Culture in the Later Medieval Low Countries

Artisan Culture in the Later Medieval Low Countries
08 Jun 2018, 17:30 to 08 Jun 2018, 19:30
IHR Wolfson Room NB02, Basement, IHR, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

Jan Dumolyn, Ghent University

Since the 1990s, labour history has been questioning its own identity and objectives, and trying to redefine itself in ‘global’ and ‘transnational’ ways. At the same time, labour historians have also more systematically considered ‘cultural’ aspects of the working classes, such as common leisure activities, political songs, workers’ literature etc. However, in addition to abandoning the Eurocentric approach and broadening the range of topics under scrutiny, labour history should also broaden its scope chronologically to include the pre-industrial period systematically. 


The Low Countries offer an ideal laboratory for the study of medieval labour history. From the fourteenth century onwards, the craft guilds defined labour relations in many cities of the Netherlands. Much has been written about the socio-economic and political importance of craft guilds. In contrast to the existing emphasis on economic analysis of guilds, this article propose an alternative approach to ‘medieval labour history’ that considers the central place of work in the medieval town as a coherent whole, beginning with a discursive analysis of written sources related to the urban world of skilled work. From the twelfth and certainly from the thirteenth century onwards, in the Netherlandish towns a social group of artisans with their own political and economic aspirations can be clearly delineated. Bound by common skilled work they certainly made up a distinctive group with a self-image and a developing political vision and economic program. Their languages of labour are ever more clearly expressed in the sources they produced from the fourteenth century onwards as a self-confident group in urban society with proper cultural features.


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