In Brazil’s late Empire and early First Republic, Rio de Janeiro was a city of merchants: thousands of small business owners and their employees who proffered goods and services to the capital city’s swelling population. This aspect of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Rio captivated a generation of contemporaneous commentators but curiously has failed to translate into a present-day field of scholarly inquiry. The archival record brims with fascinating, yet largely untapped, information about the almost exclusively male shop employees — “empregados” and “caixeiros” — who occupied the space between feudal servitude and the nascent service sector and urban working class. Historian Fabiane Popinigis has authored a monograph that begins to fill this gap.

Popinigis frames the story of the lives and struggles of Rio’s shop workers as labor history, an analytical strategy that constitutes this book’s greatest historiographic contribution. Through the mid-nineteenth century, shop workers...

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