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Artisan Entrepreneurs in Cairo and Early Modern Capitalism (1600-1800)

Nelly Hanna

Publication Year: 2011

Little has been written about the economic history of Egypt prior to its incorporation into the European capitalist economy. While historians have mined archives and court documents to create a picture of the commercial activities, networks, and infrastructure of merchants during this time, few have documented a similar picture of the artisans and craftspeople. Artisans outnumbered merchants, and their economic weight was considerable, yet details about their lives, the way they carried out their work, and their role or position in the economy are largely unknown. Hanna seeks to redress this gap with Artisan Entrepreneurs in Cairo and Early Modern Capitalism (1600–1800) by locating and exploring the role of artisans in the historical process. Offering richly detailed portraits as well as an overview of the Ottoman Empire’s economic landscape, Hanna incorporates artisans into the historical development of the period, portraying them in the context of their work, their families, and their social relations. These artisans developed a variety of capitalist practices, both as individuals and collectively in their guilds. Responding to the demands of expanding commercial environments in Egypt and Europe, artisans found ways to adapt both production techniques and the organization of production. Hanna details the ways in which artisans defied the constraints of the guilds and actively engaged in the markets of Europe, demonstrating how Egyptian artisan production was able to compete and survive in a landscape of growing European trade.

Published by: Syracuse University Press


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Front Matter

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p. vii

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p. ix

In the course of the past six years during which this book was in the making, I have accumulated debts to a number of colleagues and friends who in various ways have helped me in the process. Suraiya Faroqhi read the manuscript and not only gave me several important suggestions but also sent me a series of...

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1 Defining a Framework for the Economic History of Early-Modern Egypt

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pp. 1-35

In studies of the economy, historians know in a general way much more about commerce and trade in medieval or early-modern societies (1500–1800) than they do about the agricultural or industrial sectors. Th is holds true for both Europe and the Ottoman Empire.1 In various parts of the world, merchants left...

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2 Artisan Entrepreneurs: Capitalist Practices in a Precapitalist Environment

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pp. 36-79

The decades between the end of the sixteenth century and the mid– seventeenth century experienced a considerable level of commercial activity, in part linked to more intense global trading, and this activity resulted in a certain level of commercialization. Here I examine some of the features of this trade...

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3 A Period of Unprecedented Social Mobility for Nonelites

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pp. 80-103

In the latter part of the seventeenth century, artisans in general and entrepreneurs in particular confronted two broad trends, both of which affected their lives and their work. Following a period of recession in midcentury, there were more trade and an expansion of economic resources, on the one hand,...

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4 The Jalfis: Oil Pressers and Emirs

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pp. 104-127

Examining the life of the oil presser Ahmad al-Jalfi (c. 1650–1707) illustrates the social mobility of this period. It shows both Jalfi’s horizontal mobility as he moved in different economic spheres and his vertical mobility to a position of wealth and status. It also shows that in spite of this mobility, he remained...

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5 Competition Between Different Forms of Capitalism

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pp. 128-153

Between the end of the seventeenth century and the mid–eighteenth century, the mamluks became more involved in the economy, attempting with variable degrees of success to have a say or to penetrate and at times to control trade and production. Some of them created capitalist networks linking agricultural...

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6 Guilds: Moving Between Traditional and Precapitalist Structures

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pp. 154-188

In the eighteenth century, some artisans confronted developments that were neither of their doing nor in their favor, but with which they had to live. Not all artisans were aff ected in the same way or to the same degree, nor were the strategies that they formulated uniform—quite the contrary. Yet one can trace...

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7 Conclusion: What Remained of Artisan Entrepreneurship a Hundred Years Later?

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pp. 189-202

At the theoretical level, this book has formulated a framework for the economy of the period from 1600 to 1800 that broadly made use of the world systems approach and adapted it to the conditions of the region and the period under study. It argues that the expansion of world trade currents aff ected aspects...


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pp. 203-222


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pp. 223-236


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pp. 237-244

E-ISBN-13: 9780815651154
E-ISBN-10: 0815651155
Print-ISBN-13: 9780815632795
Print-ISBN-10: 0815632797

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 757827323
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Artisan Entrepreneurs in Cairo and Early Modern Capitalism (1600-1800)

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Artisans -- Egypt -- Cairo -- History.
  • Entrepreneurship -- Egypt -- Cairo -- History.
  • Capitalism -- Egypt -- Cairo -- History.
  • Egypt -- Economic conditions.
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