Artisanal identities and cultures of knowledge
in Crafting identities
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This chapter explores the interrelationship of knowledge, text, and artisanal identity in early modern London. The focus, unusually, is not on literary representations of craftsmen, or the archives produced by craft companies, but on materials that were independently authored by artisans. This examination of early seventeenth-century artisanal writings includes a master mason’s account book and notebook composed for his workshop and household (authored by Nicholas Stone and his sons), a manuscript treatise on metallurgy written by goldsmiths for a select civic audience, and a printed text of practical mathematics authored by a carpenter for a far-reaching commercial public. The chapter begins with these artisanal-authored texts because in their discussions of household, commercial, and civic activities, they illuminate key features of a broader epistemological culture, which will be examined in greater depth in subsequent chapters. First, the ideal master craftsman has both extensive practical experience, and an understanding of the theoretical principles underpinning his labour; experiential and propositional knowledge are intertwined. Second, artisanal expertise was a charged concept, intersecting with social and political stratifications within civic culture. A third shared theme is that workshop production and assessment of material quality are represented by artisans as collaborative processes, subject to social negotiation. Legitimate judgements about material quality and craftsmanship were made collectively, within select civic spaces, such as the assay house, or company parlour. A fourth shared element is that none of these artisanal texts were meant to be understood in isolation; they all point towards corresponding material cultures and urban spaces.

Crafting identities

Artisan culture in London, c. 1550–1640

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