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At the Centre of the Old World: Trade anal Manufacturing in Venice and the Venetian Mainland, 1400-1800.

At the Centre of the Old World: Trade anal Manufacturing in Venice and the Venetian Mainland, 1400-1800, edited by Paola Lanaro. Toronto, Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies, 2003. vii, 412 pp. $32.00 Cdn (paper).

Despite this collection's title, the essays in At the Centre of the Old World focus almost entirely on manufacturing and mostly on the period 1e00 to 1800. They are about evenly distributed between those on Venice and those on the Venetian mainland, although the close relations that tied the economies of the two parts of Venetian territory to each other means that each figures in essays focused primarily on the other. Venetian economic policies and political rule, as well as Venice's role as a magnet of trade and talent and a market for mainland products, necessarily affected heavily the development of trade and manufacturing alike in the mainland territories. The primary goal of the essays is to demonstrate that the Venetian economy (in the larger sense of the city and mainland alike) was far more flexible and adaptable during the early modern era than historians have realized. Scholars have tended to equate the relative decline of Venice's economic clout in relationship to the rest of Europe, as well as the absolute decline in Venetian political power in the Mediterranean and beyond, with economic stagnation and impoverishment. Paola Lanaro, the editor of this collection, strives to showcase the recent research of a number of Italian scholars whose work has remained little known outside the sphere of Italian economic historians, in part because most of it has been published in Italian. In this respect she has succeeded admirably, even though a better copy-editing of the translated essays would have been useful. Much of this research has been done in local archives and with difficult and cumbersome documents such as notary records, and some of the contributors synthesize admirably not only their own research, but that of local historians whose work otherwise would not reach scholars not immersed in Italian history. Thus, this collection performs a valuable service to scholars of early modern European history.

The essays in this collection also engage with a number of historiographical debates, some of them more relevant and less dated than others. Whether, for example, Mendels's model of proto-industrialization, which, as Francesco Vianello among other contributors to this volume points out, has been so critiqued and nuanced that it resembles more of a "tool box" than a coherent theory, is useful at all for understanding the development of manufacturing in and around Venice is questionable. Similarly, Wallerstein's dichotomy of "center" and "periphery," designed to schematize the relationship between "the West and the rest" in world history, seems ill-suited to the relationship between Venice and the mainland, especially as the latter had a number of smaller centres of its own, some of which gradually bypassed Venice and developed thriving economic relationships with cities elsewhere in Italy and north of the Alps. Even among world historians centre and periphery models have been critiqued, nuanced, and disassembled to the point where their usefulness in understanding economic relationships is doubtful. It is likely that the discussion, seemingly more pro forma than heartfelt, of centre and periphery raised in some of these essays could have been bypassed without diminishing the value of the book.

More useful and important are the new insights into the role of regional markets, rural industry--a still highly-neglected area of research--guilds, and, especially, gender and class in labour markets that emerge in the essays in this collection. The picture these essays create is one of both competition and of complementary economies. The Venetian government struggled to find the right combination between the two, allowing the rise of rural industries that would complement the trade and manufacturing in the city of Venice without undercutting Venice's control of international markets and of the most lucrative and technologically advanced forms of manufacturing, yet not stifle competition to the point that technological innovation disappeared and monopolists could run up prices at will. As a rule, this meant that the rulers of Venice were more likely to pander to the interests of the city's powerful merchants--in many cases thus to themselves or their close relatives--to sustain Venice's control of international trade, and less willing to meet the demands of the city's other guilds to shut out all competition from the mainland, or from newcomers within the City, if that meant prohibiting a potentially lucrative new manufacturing technique, stifling all competition among manufacturers, or driving out an entrepreneur. Moreover, even if reluctantly at times, Venice experimented with products and production techniques to adapt its manufacturing sector to the new realities of changing European markets. The city's openness toward entrepreneurs, innovation, and competition grew during the eighteenth century in part precisely because the economic competition became stiffer.

Still, compared to other manufacturing centres, especially north of the Alps, Venice's adopting of new manufacturing technology and products was slow and incomplete. This was not, however, the result of backward or economically irrational policies. Rather, as Andrea Mozzato, Marcello Della Valentine, Francesca Trivellato, and Walter Panciera all point out in their essays on Venice in the first half of the collection, when Venetians chose, in particular, to forgo labour-saving technology, due often to opposition from guilds, the choice was not as deleterious as it' might seem because owners of manufacturing enterprises, with the support and collusion of the Venetian government, were willing to innovate with labour regimes instead, in particular through widespread use of poorly paid female labour that received little or no protection from the guilds. Thus, from the point-of-view of non-specialists in Italian economic history, the most important contribution of these essays is to reinforce strongly what women's historians already knew, that women comprised a significant portion of the early modern labour force and that their earning comprised a significant and sometimes dominant portion of the family income. Women's labour may have been less wellpaid, lower status, and less steady than that of men, but it was not necessarily either less skilled or less "professional" than that their male counterparts;

Much manufacturing, especially that which women performed, was relocated outside of the city proper during this period, however, to the suburbs and the countryside of the mainland, in part to allow for greater freedom to adopt new labour regimes. The essays on the Venetian mainland are significant especially because even though the total population of Venetian territory became more rural during the early modern era, and especially after the plague of 1630, and the economic significance of the mainland cities and towns relative to that of the capital rose, the tendency has been to focus on the city of Venice. Moreover, historians have gauged the fortunes of Venice excessively in terms of its trade with the Ottoman Empire and its role as an entrepet in the spice trade at a time when the Atlantic routes to Asia were diminishing Venice's role in that trade. Yet, as the research of Edoardo Demo, Carlo Marco Belfanti, Giovanni Favero, Luca Mocarelli, and Francesco Vianello, the contributors of essays on the mainland, shows, the vitality of the mainland economy, rural and urban alike, did much to compensate for Venice's declining share of trade with Asia. Moreover, as Maurice Aymard points out in his conclusion to this volume, the aggregate picture of Venice that results from the research in these essays is that of a Venice less exceptional and less aligned with the cherished image of Renaissance Venice, but more "European," more like the cities to which Venice's economic and political significance in Europe supposedly passed in the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries.

Gayle K. Brunelle

California State University, Fullerton
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Author:Brunelle, Gayle K.
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 22, 2007
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