Harvard Historian to Speak Wednesday

Daniel Smail, professor of history, Harvard University, will present “Consuming Goods from Beyond the Borders: Three Lives from Late Medieval Mediterranean Europe” at noon Wednesday, March 30, in the University Art Museum. The 14th century: the age of the consumer revolution, the birth of fashion, a “gilded age.” As the study of material culture approaches the center of historical research, so too does the 14th century, the forgotten century, an age that hovers in a liminal space between the renaissances of the 12th and 15th. Much has been made of the patterns of consumption that begin to accelerate in the 14th century, of the changing relationships between persons and things that were entangled in this transformation. Much has been made of the lure of the exotic and the foreign, as goods flowed in from trade networks that stretched from the East Coast of Africa and the Spice Islands to Greenland. But what difference did this make outside the houses of the rich and the powerful? Is it possible to speak of changes in consumer patterns if those patterns were restricted to the elite? To begin to answer this question, we need sources that allow us to peek into the households of peasants, workers, artisans and traders. In this talk, Smail will explore the evidence that can be gleaned from inventories and similar sources, using the possessions of three men and women from Marseille and Lucca in the 14th century as an organizing principle. Sponsored by CEMERS as part of its year-long institute on global trade.