Introduction
Crafting identities
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This chapter introduces key debates in British and European scholarship concerning early modern artisanal identity, and its significance to our understanding of urban culture and society. It then locates my distinctive argument and methodology within this historiography and sets out the central thesis of the book: namely, that the social and intellectual status of London’s crafts and craftsmen was embedded in particular material and spatial contexts. The enlarging, beautifying, and rebuilding of company halls was expensive, highly visible, and time-consuming. Showing how artisans and merchants fashioned their corporate spaces decentres narratives about changes to the built environment of early modern London, which are usually framed solely from the perspective of aristocratic, gentlemanly, and royal activity. This introductory chapter further explores how the findings of the book throw new light on wider urban themes. First, through exploration of the intersection of artisanal and civic cultures, this study speaks to a broader historiographical debate about the nature and timing of English ‘civic’ and ‘urban’ renaissances in this era, and the social groups participating in this cultural resurgence. In particular, it elucidates the importance of the subjective notion of skill to London’s citizens. Second, looking beyond England, this book also contributes to a European-wide debate on the role of artisans in shaping early modern knowledge cultures.

Crafting identities

Artisan culture in London, c. 1550–1640

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