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THE GUILDS OF EARLY MODERN AUGSBURG: A STUDY IN URBAN INSTITUTIONS (GERMANY)

ELLIS LEE KNOX, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Abstract

This dissertation is a comparative study of guilds at a time when the guild system was supposedly in decline. It is not a study of decaying institutions, however, but of successful ones. It compares the structure and function of four guilds--shoemakers, joiners, barbers and millers--in the early decades of the seventeenth century. These guilds represent a cross-section of the small businessmen and artisans of Augsburg and reflect the variety of form and activity that existed in the city.^ The dissertation is based on archival sources that are largely unknown and untouched. Most important of these are the petitions to the City Council written by or about guildsmen and guilds. These sources allow us to go beyond the tax books and guild regulations that form the principal sources for most guild histories. This study also utilizes these traditional sources, but expands upon them with the petitions to examine how the guilds actually functioned on a daily basis (the four guilds produced fifteen to twenty petitions a month). The petitions are invaluable to the social historian, for they are among the few collections of documents in the pre-modern era that speak with the voice of the common man.^ The guild system in the seventeenth century was not dead; it was not even ill. Contrary to nearly every pronouncement on early modern guilds, the evidence shows that city, guild and guildsmen generally understood one another and worked well together. The system did not work flawlessly or without friction, but it did function successfully. The success came from the ability of the guilds to adapt to changing circumstances, the ability of the city to concern itself with the minutiae of its business life, and the willingness of the guildsmen to communicate their problems and desires to the government. The guilds were a vital part of the city; they were not excessively conservative, they were not backward, they were not behind the times; rather, they were in close harmony with the urban environment that sustained them. ^

Subject Area

Economic history|Social structure

Recommended Citation

KNOX, ELLIS LEE, "THE GUILDS OF EARLY MODERN AUGSBURG: A STUDY IN URBAN INSTITUTIONS (GERMANY)" (1984). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI8500087.
http://scholarworks.umass.edu/dissertations/AAI8500087

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