Routes of Social and Geographical Mobility in the Quattrocento: the Adaptation and Dynamism of Florentine merciai
Alessia Meneghin holds a PhD in Medieval History from the University of St Andrews. She has published articles on the Arti Minori, social mobility, food and wet-nursing, consumption and credit of the lower orders of society in fifteenth-century Florence and Tuscany. As a Research Associate in History at the University of Cambridge, she has focused on the social and economic aspects of devotion. She is the co-editor of two volumes on Domestic Devotions in the Early Modern World and in Early Modern Italy. She has a forthcoming volume with Routledge on the social mobility of Rigattieri in early Renaissance Florence.
This project – a comparative investigation of Florentine retailers of low-quality merchandise, mercers (merciai) – is designed to document the social and geographical mobility of the non-elite against the backdrop of broader social changes in Florence and Europe in the 1400s. It will analyse how mercers exploited their specific experience and knowledge, and how their economic and social dynamism – often fuelled by political aspirations, including access to high office – paralleled or diverged from that of other groups. It will also investigate what factors (clientele, goods and supplies) may have weighed on those lacking substantial capital, who resorted to geographical mobility to thrive. A key goal of this project is to understand what enabled mercers to rise socially and how this differs from the cases of bankers and lawyers. To what extent was it the use of economic, social or cultural capital, or a combination of all three factors together that determined the social ascent of one mercer? What attitudes were expressed by merciai towards profit, wealth, social recognition and participation to the internal dialectics of politics? Were they aware of the cultural codes and practices cultivated among the physicians, who held the highest positions within the same Arte dei Medici e Speziali to which they also belonged?