mobile, marginal and technically specialist

Over the quiet Christmas season, I have been re-reading Guy-Jean Michel’s excellent Verriers et verreries en Franche-Comté au XVIIIe siècle (Erti, 1989).  The workers in these glass-blowing factories of northeastern France, who had come around AD  1700 from areas of Germany and Switzerland, were craftspeople who show interesting commonalities with the West African blacksmiths and other technical specialists whom I have been considering in the book I’m writing on the role of outsiders in the West African past.

The glass-blowing factory worked on a different rythm to that of surrounding society – not structured by the religious calendar, the seasons and by day and night but by whether the furnace was firing or not – “tiendra-t-il trois ou trente semaines? on ne peut le prévoir” (Michel 1989: 135). This firing demanded vast quantities of wood and placed the factories in remote wooded areas, away from the bulk of society – a marginal position that a different language (they still spoke German for two generations – Michel 1989: 389) and high degrees of mobility and endogamy tended to foster. This wasn’t, however, an community that was turned inwards, but one which created links – employment, last rites, wine, wheat, godfathering – with the surrounding communities.

In the second half of the eighteenth century, the glassblowers started moving southwards to the Lyon area, where coal was becoming available to power their furnaces. I spent quite some time in the 1990s researching in geneaological archives the Haour family, and was able to go back to a Jean Haour born around 1700 who probably worked at the Miellin factory and whom I am pretty sure is a direct ancestor. The trail goes cold then – the family’s origin may well be in the Black Forest or the Swiss Jura, as was that of the better-known families, but the documents stay mute on this (and see Michel 1989: 388-9).

If I can find a good way to, I will put these verriers into the book.


1 Response to “mobile, marginal and technically specialist”

  1. December 31, 2011 at 08:31

    This is very interesting indeed! The possibility of linking the rise and fall of communities, states and even civilizations to depletion of resources is fast catching on. The migration of craft communities in pursuit of essential resources can certainly explain the spread of techniques, cultures and genes over wide and even unlikely areas. Therefore, crafts that needed at least one resources that was finite, such as iron working and pottery are prime vehicles for this line of research. Good luck!

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About this blog

This blog has been set up to chart the activities and research findings of two projects led by Anne Haour, an archaeologist from the Sainsbury Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, United Kingdom.

The first project, called Crossroads, brings together a team of archaeologists, historians and anthropologists studying the Niger Valley where it borders Niger and Bénin (West Africa). We are hoping to shed more light on the people that inhabited the area in the past 1500 years and to understand how population movements and craft techniques shaped the area's past.

The second project, called Cowries, examines the money cowrie, a shell which served as currency, ritual object and ornament across the world for millennia, and in medieval times most especially in the Maldive Islands of the Indian Ocean and the Sahelian regions of West Africa. We hope to understand how this shell was sourced and used in those two areas.

These investigations are funded by the European Research Council as part of the Starting Independent Researcher Programme (Seventh Framework Programme – FP7) and by the Leverhulme Trust as a Research Project Grant. The opinions posted here are however Anne Haour's own!

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