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Labor Use and Landlord Control: Sharecropping and Household Structure in Fifteenth-Century Tuscany

Labor Use and Landlord Control: Sharecropping and Household Structure in Fifteenth-Century Tuscany

By Rebecca Jean Emigh

The Journal of Historical Sociology, Vol.11:1 (1998)

Abstract: The prevalence of large and extended families among sharecroppers in northern and central Italy during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries has been well documented in the historical demographic literature. Landlords relied on tenants’ extended household structure to provide a large labor force that increased their income. In earlier centuries, however, landlords’ involvement in agricultural production may have had little impact on household structure. Evidence from fifteenth-century Tuscany illustrates that household extension was not as common among sharecroppers during this period of time. Qualitative analyses of personal correspondence and tax declarations from the fifteenth century suggest reasons why landlords’ management techniques did not lead to household extension among sharecroppers. Unlike landlords in later periods of time, fifteenth-century landlords relied more on rearranging plots of land than particular demographic practices, because land consolidation was still in progress and farms were not fixed geographically. In addition, during the earlier period of time, sharecropping was less institutionalized and landlords had less power over their tenants. These findings suggest that sharecropping, as a tenurial form, did not necessarily lead to household extension. Instead, the effect of the tenurial form depended on the nature of sharecropping and the degree of landlords’ power.

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