As an economic category, artisans are typically bounded by two historical markers: on one side, the rise of urban centers in the medieval period, and on the other side, the reorganization of commodity production as a result of industrial capitalization in the early modern period. As much as by their manufacturing and retailing work, premodern artisans may be recognized by specific social practices, such as guild membership, devotional associations, relations to community and nation, and distinctive gender organization. From the fourteenth to the seventeenth century, the period that witnessed artisans’ greatest influence, their identity was largely relational, defining itself from and against those who shared overlapping interests: merchants, waged laborers, and women. In addition, the premodern period saw important shifts in the epistemological status of “craft,” “art,” and “knowledge,” which began to create cultural divisions between artisan and artist, artisan and scientist. The essays in this volume explore artisan culture from a variety of perspectives, analyzing the representation of premodern artisans as distinctive cultural producers and considering artisans’ dynamic participation in the realms of literate, legal, and devotional culture.

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