Call for Papers: Rural History 2019 panel proposal – Village Shops and Craftsmen

RHN 127/2018 | Call

Organisers: Wout Vande Sompele and Tim Soens

Rural History 2019, 10-13 September 2019, Paris, France

Deadline for panel proposals: 15 October 2018

Call for Papers:
Rural History 2019 Panel Proposal
Village Shops and Craftsmen: the transformation of rural service providers between Middle Ages and the 20th century

Although several studies in the 1980’s already pointed at the growing importance of the non-agrarian rural population over the course of the early modern period and 19th century, service providers in the countryside – village shops and craftsmen – have until now received far less attention than their urban counterparts. Whereas a lot of attention has been paid to rural proto-industries and industrial or commercial ‘bye-employment’, those for whom activities in the secondary and tertiary sector where their primary source of income, often remain out of sight. The few studies that did pay attention to village innkeepers, labourers, cartwright’s, masons, etc. suggest a steady growth in many parts of Europe during a long ‘golden’ 18th century, followed by a marked decline from the beginning of the 20th century onwards, with the disintegration of traditional rural society. Both the universal validity of this model, and the drivers explaining the rise and fall of what can be labelled ‘rural service provisioning’ have yet to be explored. Was the growth rural service provisioning mainly evolving in response to evolutions in agriculture? With increasing specialisation and commercialisation during ‘agrarian revolutions’ leading to a proliferation of specialised service providers (both providing agricultural tools and equipment, and facilitating the commercialisation of an increasingly market-oriented agricultural production? Or was the expansion of rural service provisioning mostly linked to ‘consumer’ revolutions, introducing a plethora of ‘new luxuries’ and ‘consumables’ in the countryside? With this session, we aim to reveal the dynamics behind the rise and fall of ‘rural service provisioning’, questioning:

1) the evolution of rural service provisioning over time, and the impact of changes in agricultural technologies, in the availability and retail of consumables, in the development and proximity of urban markets? Although most of the literature on village economics treats the Early Modern period and 19th and 20th century separately, continuities between the ‘pre-industrial’ and the ‘industrial’ period might be more important than often thought.

2) the interaction of village shops and craftsmen with regional agricultural systems. Europe before 1900 was characterised by a great diversity of agricultural systems, from regions characterised by peasant subsistence farming over proto-industrial regions to regions of early ‘agrarian capitalism’. What was the impact of these regional divergences and chronological transitions in agricultural systems on the development of crafts and shops in rural villages?

3) the impact of nearby urban markets. The close proximity of a city provided several rural service providers with 1) a market for rural products and services they could mediate 2) access to urban (consumer) goods that they could further distribute in the rural village, but 3) also competition which might eventually outcompete the rural craftsmen and village shops.

If you are interested, please contact:
Wout Vande Sompele and Tim Soens (University of Antwerp, Belgium),

Conference website:

The Rural History 2019 Call for Panels can be found in RHN 70/2018.