Communities of Women in Medieval Economic Networks

AHA Session 146
Medieval Academy of America 2
Saturday, January 7, 2012: 11:30 AM-1:30 PM
Chicago Ballroom G (Chicago Marriott Downtown)
Paul H. Freedman, Yale University
Between the Cloister and the Vineyard: The Economic Networks of the Nuns of Eleventh-Century Anjou
Marguerite Ragnow, James Ford Bell Library, University of Minnesota
Beguine Silk Workers in Medieval Paris
Tanya S. Stabler, Purdue University Calumet
James Murray, Western Michigan University

Session Abstract

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“Communities of Women in Medieval Economic Networks

Sponsored by the Medieval Academy of America

Organizer, Kathryn Reyerson, History, University of Minnesota,

Our session addresses the topic of communities and networks through three case studies of women in economic networks in medieval France: the nuns of Le Ronceray in eleventh-century Angers, the non-cloistered beguines of thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Paris who worked in the silk industry, and urban market resellers (hucksters) of fourteenth-century Montpellier.  Results of these investigations will produce insights into women’s group identity and into the ways in which women operated within the medieval economy. 

These cases are interesting for the kinds of social and economic ties they reveal, both horizontal and vertical, in medieval society, and for the shape and functioning of communities of women.  Nuns of the community of Le Ronceray, often of high status, invested on behalf of their monastery in the regional economy of Anjou.  They used their family connections within the region, but they also collaborated with peasants and townspeople in mills, vineyards, and other sorts of economic activities associated with the running of the monastery.  The beguines of medieval Paris were independent women functioning as artisans in a highly profitable and new medieval industry – at least for northern France.  They belonged to households and to neighborhood commercial networks that involved their fellow beguines, but they also had ties with merchants and workers in the silk industry overall.  The modest market sellers of Montpellier did business for several generations on a central square where they sold products such as fruits, vegetables, and chickens.  These resellers reveal their connections to their landlords, women and men of the urban elite, in testimonies collected in an inquest into whether the square was public or private.

Examination of the social and economic networks of women in communities in medieval France shows formal and informal groups using a variety of strategies to participate in the urban and rural economies of the time.

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