Vox populi: Popular autobiographies as sources for early modern urban history

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This article reviews research on autobiographical texts written by artisans and other members of the urban popular classes during the early modern era. After reviewing some of the ways in which urban history has incorporated personal literature by authors from diverse social backgrounds, it explores the meaning of the term ‘popular autobiography’. After examining the contribution of this unique historical source to the study of urban politics, society and culture, the essay then focuses on the specific question of what autobiography can reveal about the study of popular sociability. A preliminary list of popular autobiographers figures in the appendix.

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... The approach I am about to undertake is by no means easy as direct testimonies of what merchants really thought about their partners are rare and hard to come by; even more difficult is to find out what a craftsman, a vintner, a wine merchant thought about his own brothers and sisters whom he worked with and whether relatives were really preferable to friends and colleagues. 9 I have chosen several strategic vantage points. I will examine the material factors that made it possible to create 'brotherhoods of workmen' and the ideas that were shared as regards these brotherhoods. ...
How important was it for merchants, artisans, inn-keepers and painters to have brothers and to work with them? By cross-referencing different sources (states of souls, testaments, inventories, court papers, compilations of legal and notary deeds), this article seeks to answer the question by taking some crucial aspects into consideration: daily life in the family home and other forms of cohabitation, the transmission of work tools and of vocations, the training of new generations and the support provided to family members in trouble. Seventeenth-century Rome is an interesting vantage point from which to investigate the importance of brothers' companies. The presence of the Papal Roman court extended employment opportunities, not only for courtiers, artists and servants who moved from one embassy to another and from one cardinal's court to another, but also for all those men (more men than women) on the margins who were able to earn some money from the conspicuous consumption of the upper classes. The flexibility of the labour market and the widespread phenomenon of male cohabitation could undermine the strength of family companies.
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Drawing on a large body of scholarship from the last forty years, this article offers an overview of the diverse forms of life writing “from below” (by authors from low down in a class or status hierarchy) in Europe since the early modern period (including autobiographies, diaries, letters, as well as transcripts of oral testimonies); and the varied and developing national traditions of collecting and archiving which have developed since the mid-twentieth century. It locates such writing within a field of force between an exteriority pole constituted by the state (or by organisations of civil society, or informal community pressures) which compel or otherwise elicit life writings from below, and an interiority pole of the impulse of someone hitherto excluded to narrate their life in some public sphere; and examines diverse ways (state compulsion or solicitation; citizen engagement, challenge or resistance) in which these pressures give rise to the production of texts. It identifies the roles of intermediaries within civil society (patrons, sponsors, commercial publishers, collaborators) as links between individual (potential) authors and the public sphere.
By considering the personal preoccupations of the middle sort represented in a broad range of autobiographical writings from the early modern period, this article attempts to construct a contemporary frame of reference for the analysis of social mobility. In historiographical analysis, especially of early modern Britain, ‘social mobility’ has largely denoted the upward striving of middling individuals in successive generations. This article argues that contemporaries saw it otherwise. It adduces evidence of a strong concern with mutability in the individual life-cycle, rather than with mobility over generations. Also, it shows that the declining fortunes of whole families, rather than gains made by individuals, remained foremost in the minds of many. It concludes by suggesting that the recurrent emphasis in historical writing on the emerging culture of individual desire ought to be tempered by recognition of the strong traditional moral economy of familial duty and anxiety.
Italian family history has seen tremendous development over the past two decades, yet research has been unnecessarily restricted in approach and focus. A great deal of attention has been paid to household composition and relations within the household, while too little attention has been paid to relations among kin who are not coresident. Attention is called to several areas of research which have barely begun to be plumbed, yet which have great potential for the future. These include studies of the role of extended kin in family property and income, kin networks of mutual support, the role of fictive kin, the relationship between kinship and political groupings, and the relationship between kinship and social mobility.
Although sociologists increasingly recognize the importance of networks in social movement mobilization, efforts to understand network factors have been hampered by the operationalization of network factors as individual-level variables. I argue that disaggregating relational data into individual-level counts of social ties obscures the crucial issues of network structure and multiplexity. I analyze data on insurgency in the Paris Commune of 1871 and show that organizational networks and pre-existing informal networks interacted in the mobilization process, even in the final moments of the insurrection. Network autocorrelation models reveal that enlistment patterns in the Paris National Guard created organizational linkages among residential areas that contributed to solidarity in the insurgent effort, but the efficacy of these linkages depended on the presence of informal social ties rooted in Parisian neighborhoods. Thus the role of network factors can only be understood by studying the joint influence of formal and informal social structures on the mobilization process.
La Florence de la fin du Moyen Age, une société profondément imprégnée par l'idée et la pratique d'un « temps nouveau » et caractérisée par le développement extraordinaire de ces singulières inventions d'écriture qu'étaient les livres de ricordanze , offre un terrain idéal pour l'étude de la mémoire, que l'on en privilégie l'aspect de patrimoine personnel ou que l'on en identifie les espaces d'expression les plus typiques dans la famille, le groupe professionnel ou culturel, la communauté urbaine. Mais cette constatation est surtout valable pour les sommets de la hiérarchie sociale, pour le monde des mercatores .
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