Thursday, November 24, 2016

Sharon Farmer's "The Silk Industries of Medieval Paris"

Sharon Farmer is Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The Silk Industries of Medieval Paris: Artisanal Migration, Technological Innovation, and Gendered Experience, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The Silk Industries of Medieval Paris takes the reader to the heart of a discussion of immigrants from Italy and Cyprus who worked as entrepreneurs and artisans in the Parisian silk industry of the late thirteenth century. The evidence concerning these immigrants, and the positive role that they played in the Parisian economy at the time, speaks to key contemporary questions about immigrants and local economies that are playing out at this very moment in Britain, France, and the U.S.

As I explain in the introduction to the book (which you can read online at the University of Pennsylvania Press’ website), between 1950 and 1990, French medieval historians of the Annales school played a major role in perpetuating a myth that nearly all French people of the twentieth century had descended from peasants who once worked the French soil. Such claims were extremely erroneous – but they played a powerful role in constructing French national identity. French historians such as Gérard Noiriel have already debunked those claims by examining the important role that immigrants played in French society in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. My book takes that examination back even further, thereby suggesting that the French “melting pot” is centuries old.

The book also elucidates the role that the influx of immigrants could play in transforming relationships between the sexes. When Italian business men of the thirteenth century moved to Paris, gained recognition as local taxpayers, and married French women, they adapted business practices that were much more open to women’s economic activities than were the business practices of their male relatives who remained in the towns of Northern Italy. And when Mediterranean artisans introduced new silk technologies to Paris, they ended up working in an industry that provided much more space, than was the case in their towns to the south, for prominent women artisans and entrepreneurs. Indeed, the new silk industry that took shape in late thirteenth century Paris ended up providing some of the best employment opportunities that were available for women anywhere in Europe at the time.
Learn more about The Silk Industries of Medieval Paris at the University of Pennsylvania Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue