History of Pedlars in Europe

History of Pedlars in Europe

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The profession of peddling has until now received only slight and fragmentary scholarly attention. Usually treated in an anecdotal fashion, the pedlar has generally been thought of as a marginal figure, closer in character to a vagabond than a trader. In this first sustained account of the profession in Europe, Laurence Fontaine argues that peddling, particularly as a means of distributing new commodities such as books, watches, and tobacco, played a crucial role in the formation of the modern European economy.
Focusing primarily on the fifteenth through eighteenth centuries, Fontaine traces the origins and development of peddling and the establishment of trading networks. She analyzes the changing social construction of the practice and the effect of encounters between traders of different regions. Following the pedlars’ trade routes across Europe from Spain to Sweden and Scotland to the upper Rhine, she examines their importance as channels of communication as well as of goods and raises such issues as the impact of pedlars on the values and cultural practices of the communities they visited and the ways in which being merchants changed the lives of these migrants.
History of Pedlars in Europe separates the mythology that surrounds peddling from the historically reliable and integrates existing studies with new archival research to illuminate one of the most remote areas of the social and economic history of early modern Europe. A means of trade based on mobility, uncertainty, and interdependence, peddling is rediscovered as a dynamic force involved in nothing less than the creation of a modern consumer society.

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