Proposal preview

The skilled workforce in the pre-modern world

One of the questions underlying the Great Divergence debate, is the significance of industrial skills. Claims have been made about industrial products in various parts of the world, but systematic comparisons are still underdeveloped. Why, for a long time, was porcelain only produced in Asia, and did it prove very difficult to imitate? Why was the quality of Indian cotton textiles superior to European products? Why, indeed, were Europeans keen to import Asian industrial goods, and not the other way around? Did this have anything to do with ‘quality’, and if so, was skill a factor in this?
In recent years, much work has been done on the acquisition of skills through both formal and informal training. During the last ten years we have acquired much new knowledge about apprentices. Research on guilds has also brought to light much new evidence about the masters. In this panel we want to move the discussion to the ‘men in the middle’, the journeymen who are currently largely neglected by the historiography, despite forming the great majority of the skilled workforce and arguably providing one of the key mechanisms for the dissemination of innovations.
The panel draws together a group of experts to reconsider the contribution and status of the journeymen and the organization of journeywork across pre-modern Europe. Papers may explore a range of questions: the structure of skilled wages; the formal and informal definition of the status of journeyman; their quantitative importance in urban industries; the social profile and origins of journeymen; geographical and social mobility by journeymen; or the relationship between journeywork and family formation. They may also test the existing hypotheses about journeymen: did journeywork move from a stage in a life-cycle to a permanent status over the 17th or 18th centuries as opportunities for mobility to mastership declined? Was journeymen’s mobility as high across Europe as suggested by earlier studies? To what extent were journeymen across Europe able to rely on their membership of organizations such as compagnonnages to sustain mobility and police access to labour markets? Did corporate bodies such as guilds increasingly marginalize journeymen over this period?

Organizer(s)

  • Maarten Prak Universiteit Utrecht m.prak@uu.nl Netherlands
  • Patrick H. Wallis London School of Economics p.h.wallis@lse.ac.uk UK

Session members

  • Ruben Schalk, Universiteit Utrecht
  • Judy Stephenson, University of Oxford
  • José Nieto Sanchez, Universidad Autonoma de Madrid
  • Mans Jansson, Uppsala Universitet
  • Leonard N. Rosenband, Utah State University
  • Juanjo Romero, Universitat de Barcelona

Discussant(s)

  • Maarten Prak Utrecht University m.prak@uu.nl
  • Patrick H. Wallis London School of Economics p.h.wallis@lse.ac.uk

Papers

Panel abstract

In recent years, much work has been done on the acquisition of skills. During the last ten years we have acquired new knowledge about apprentices, and research on guilds has brought to light new evidence about the masters. This panel moves the discussion to the ‘men in the middle’, the journeymen who are currently largely neglected by the historiography, despite forming the great majority of the skilled workforce and arguably providing one of the key mechanisms for the dissemination of innovations. The papers in the session will contribute to testing some existing hypotheses about journeymen: did journeywork move from a stage in a life-cycle to a permanent status over the 17th or 18th centuries as opportunities for mobility to mastership declined? Was journeymen’s mobility as high across Europe as suggested by earlier studies? Did corporate bodies such as guilds increasingly marginalize journeymen over this period?

1st half

Journeymen and labour markets in eighteenth-century Holland

Ruben Schalk

Premodern cities depended on migrants to replenish their workforce, yet immigrants had to deal with guilds that may have privileged citizens, and with urban authorities denying workers access because they put too much pressure on poor relief (Ogilvie 1997; Winter 2008). Apparently one group of immigrants that did get access were journeymen doing their Wanderschaft. It is assumed that their participation in receiving urban labour markets was temporary: traveling journeymen would ultimately return to their hometown to set up shop as masters (Sonenscher 1989; Lucassen 1984). There is however little evidence to suggest that urban labour markets were as restrictive as suggested, or that journeymen could not gain permanent access. But since journeymen are difficult to trace, at least for the Netherlands, we know next to nothing about their participation in urban labour markets in the premodern period (Lucassen & Lucassen 2009). Nevertheless, considering the small share of local apprentices...

Premodern cities depended on migrants to replenish their workforce, yet immigrants had to deal with guilds that may have privileged citizens, and with urban authorities denying workers access because they put too much pressure on poor relief (Ogilvie 1997; Winter 2008). Apparently one group of immigrants that did get access were journeymen doing their Wanderschaft. It is assumed that their participation in receiving urban labour markets was temporary: traveling journeymen would ultimately return to their hometown to set up shop as masters (Sonenscher 1989; Lucassen 1984). There is however little evidence to suggest that urban labour markets were as restrictive as suggested, or that journeymen could not gain permanent access. But since journeymen are difficult to trace, at least for the Netherlands, we know next to nothing about their participation in urban labour markets in the premodern period (Lucassen & Lucassen 2009). Nevertheless, considering the small share of local apprentices who became journeymen and masters (Schalk et al. 2017), the contribution of migrant journeymen to the local economy must have been significant. But even so, were these journeymen still part of a ‘secondary’ labour market, as De Vries (1994) suggested, or could they stay for longer periods, or even set up shop of their own? This paper will explore these questions by looking at migrants and journeymen in the Dutch province of Holland during the 17th and 18th centuries. By first tracing the origin of groups of journeymen in Haarlem, Leiden, and Amsterdam we demonstrate their numerical importance for local labour markets both during periods of economic growth (1600s) and relative stagnation (1700s). Next, we link journeymen to list of guild masters for surgeons, bakers, and cobblers. This demonstrates that many immigrant journeymen were eventually able to join the guild in receiving cities and set up shop of their own. Interestingly, preliminary results for Haarlem indicate that journeymen originating from the countryside secured masterhood in significantly larger numbers than journeymen coming from cities – but it appears that this divergence cannot be explained by distance to Haarlem. This suggests that permanent stay of migrant journeymen was not discouraged by closed labour markets, but possibly by divergent opportunities in the place of origin between urban and rural migrants. The latter group may simply have had fewer opportunities in their place of origin, causing them to opt for permanent migration in larger numbers.

Skilled Craftsmen at St Paul's Cathedral London 1700 - 1709

Judy Stephenson

The status, skills and ‘human capital’ of journeymen in the long eighteenth century is of relevance to organisational, technological and labour theories about development and industrialisation. This paper performs a micro analysis of skilled men working in one firm on an exceptionally skilled project – the South West Tower of St Paul’s Cathedral in the first decade of the eighteenth century. Analysing working patterns, pay, work descriptions, apprenticeship and other city records I construct a hierarchy of skill and management and show that although skill, specialism and experience determined pay there was a far higher premium paid to men with the capability to manage teams and contracts

The status, skills and ‘human capital’ of journeymen in the long eighteenth century is of relevance to organisational, technological and labour theories about development and industrialisation. This paper performs a micro analysis of skilled men working in one firm on an exceptionally skilled project – the South West Tower of St Paul’s Cathedral in the first decade of the eighteenth century. Analysing working patterns, pay, work descriptions, apprenticeship and other city records I construct a hierarchy of skill and management and show that although skill, specialism and experience determined pay there was a far higher premium paid to men with the capability to manage teams and contracts

Artisan Journeymen in Castile, Aragon, and the Spanish Colonies (18th Century)

José Antolín Nieto Sánchez

The status, skills and ‘human capital’ of journeymen in the long eighteenth century is of relevance to organisational, technological and labour theories about development and industrialisation. This paper performs a micro analysis of skilled men working in one firm on an exceptionally skilled project – the South West Tower of St Paul’s Cathedral in the first decade of the eighteenth century. Analysing working patterns, pay, work descriptions, apprenticeship and other city records I construct a hierarchy of skill and management and show that although skill, specialism and experience determined pay there was a far higher premium paid to men with the capability to manage teams and contracts.

The status, skills and ‘human capital’ of journeymen in the long eighteenth century is of relevance to organisational, technological and labour theories about development and industrialisation. This paper performs a micro analysis of skilled men working in one firm on an exceptionally skilled project – the South West Tower of St Paul’s Cathedral in the first decade of the eighteenth century. Analysing working patterns, pay, work descriptions, apprenticeship and other city records I construct a hierarchy of skill and management and show that although skill, specialism and experience determined pay there was a far higher premium paid to men with the capability to manage teams and contracts.

2nd half

Journeymen and the eighteenth-century metal trades in Stockholm

Mans Jansson

Numerous investigations have highlighted the circulation of skilled craftsmen in Central and Western Europe. Others have put focus on the local dynamics of work, and especially so the intermediary role of urban space, in discussing the adaptation of technology and practices of imitation. We have also seen rewarding discussions on the complex nature of these processes; they brought about conflicts, but also innovative solutions and new types of cooperation. From a Scandinavian perspective, however, these questions have not been emphasized to the same extent. This paper initiates such a discussion by using examples from the eighteenth-century metal trades in Stockholm. The Swedish capital was the economic and political centre of the Swedish realm, but also the most important town for guild crafts and manufacturing industries. Urban space attracted workers and aspiring manufacturers from the Swedish provinces and from Europe. These intersecting movements make it possible to speak about the capital...

Numerous investigations have highlighted the circulation of skilled craftsmen in Central and Western Europe. Others have put focus on the local dynamics of work, and especially so the intermediary role of urban space, in discussing the adaptation of technology and practices of imitation. We have also seen rewarding discussions on the complex nature of these processes; they brought about conflicts, but also innovative solutions and new types of cooperation. From a Scandinavian perspective, however, these questions have not been emphasized to the same extent. This paper initiates such a discussion by using examples from the eighteenth-century metal trades in Stockholm. The Swedish capital was the economic and political centre of the Swedish realm, but also the most important town for guild crafts and manufacturing industries. Urban space attracted workers and aspiring manufacturers from the Swedish provinces and from Europe. These intersecting movements make it possible to speak about the capital as a ‘contact zone’, where skills and techniques were negotiated and reconfigured, and where new ideas regarding the organization of work were put into practice. Building on these results, the aim of this paper is to further explore various interconnected forms of mobility within the metal trades by emphasizing the group of metal-making journeymen. I discuss foreign journeys and funded ‘study tours’, and the attempts made by journeymen to promote their skills to the state and to local authorities upon the return to Stockholm. In discussing these forms of mobility, the intention is also to highlight the (different) intermediary role(s) of journeymen in processes where skills and metal-making techniques were circulated and adapted.

Journeymen Paperworkers and the Industrious Revolution

Leonard N. Rosenband

Much of the recent debate in early modern European labor and economic history has centered on Jan de Vries’s concept of the industrious revolution. Briefly, he claimed that workers during the period 1650-1800 chose to labor longer hours, often at greater intensity, in order to consume novel manufactured goods and imported commodities. Moreover, plebeian families increasingly pursued new employments beyond the household to pay for these objects. As a result, men, women, and children spent ever more hours in waged labor, and their growing purchasing power proved decisive in stimulating large-scale European industrialization. My work on the history of French and English papermaking raises fundamental challenges to this model. First, paperworkers already labored exhausting hours at the outset of de Vries’s period of newfound industriousness Second, masters and workers alike knew that they had to both “speed up” and “take their time" to turn out quality paper at the expected...

Much of the recent debate in early modern European labor and economic history has centered on Jan de Vries’s concept of the industrious revolution. Briefly, he claimed that workers during the period 1650-1800 chose to labor longer hours, often at greater intensity, in order to consume novel manufactured goods and imported commodities. Moreover, plebeian families increasingly pursued new employments beyond the household to pay for these objects. As a result, men, women, and children spent ever more hours in waged labor, and their growing purchasing power proved decisive in stimulating large-scale European industrialization. My work on the history of French and English papermaking raises fundamental challenges to this model. First, paperworkers already labored exhausting hours at the outset of de Vries’s period of newfound industriousness Second, masters and workers alike knew that they had to both “speed up” and “take their time" to turn out quality paper at the expected rate. Third, women and adolescent workers toiled for wages in paper mills long before the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. On the eve of large-scale mechanization, enduring shopfloor realities, skills, and quotas prevented a surge of productivity beyond papermaking’s familiar standards. With the demand for paper rising rapidly, it was the absence of an industrious revolution in papermaking that turned the manufacturers’ attention first to enlarged mills and small technological shifts, and finally, to the development of a papermaking machine.

Mobility of Barcelona Artisans at the beginning of Industralization (1814-1855)

Juanjo Romero

In 1834, Guilds were forbade in Spain. Just two years early, the first steam powered factory was erected in Barcelona, employing more than 1,500 workers only in its machinery workshop department. Local historiography has considered that the birth of modern industries in town meant the end of traditional crafts and, subsequently artisans businesses declined while craftsmen became the work-force of the new industries. The present explores the evolution of artisan cohorts from the end of the Napoleonic wars, when Barcelona city has 87,000 inhabitants to the first general strike, 1855, which represented the maturity of new factory working class when 150,000 souls lived in the town. Concretely, this paper wants to analyze the geographical and professional mobility of craftsmen in order to discuss: the impact of industrialization in artisan family strategies ―by studying transmission of trade between generations―, the geographical origins of artisans and their access to trades and workshops...

In 1834, Guilds were forbade in Spain. Just two years early, the first steam powered factory was erected in Barcelona, employing more than 1,500 workers only in its machinery workshop department. Local historiography has considered that the birth of modern industries in town meant the end of traditional crafts and, subsequently artisans businesses declined while craftsmen became the work-force of the new industries. The present explores the evolution of artisan cohorts from the end of the Napoleonic wars, when Barcelona city has 87,000 inhabitants to the first general strike, 1855, which represented the maturity of new factory working class when 150,000 souls lived in the town. Concretely, this paper wants to analyze the geographical and professional mobility of craftsmen in order to discuss: the impact of industrialization in artisan family strategies ―by studying transmission of trade between generations―, the geographical origins of artisans and their access to trades and workshops property (open or close shop). About 5,000 individual files corresponding to Barcelona craftsmen have been created gathering information from guilds registers, notary documents, municipal death certificates and taxes records. Such files contain date and place of birth, parents residence and profession, workshop and residence address (both for journeymen and masters), as well as professional changes (apprenticeship, mastership). This data not only provide information about professional mobility but also about economic and social status (tax registers and address locations) during the time of industrialization challenges.