Merchant Networks in the Crown of Castile Cities between Medieval and Early Modern Age
By David Carvajal
Paper given at the EBHA conference Glasgow (August 2010)
Introduction: The figure of merchant in pre-industrial era has been approached from different points of view. His controversial place in the stratified society, their acts of usury condemned by religious orthodoxy, a passion for culture, or their fledgling business, axes raised by Le Goff, are reflected in many works from theoretical reflections: Positivism, Marxism, Weberianism, etc In all these studies, it’s clear that merchants of this time were a peculiar group in the heat of the urban system, and they represented the economic and social development, organized around different networks.
Over the years it has become necessary to advance knowledge through new tools and theories. S. Subrahmanyam asked: “How does one understand the workings of these merchant communities in the early modern World, and what are the apropiate Tools of analysis?” The objective of this paper is to answer Subrahmanyam’s question, or at least, to set out an initial proposal for the analysis and the study of society and economy in the past. For this reason, we propose to work from the field of social networks analysis. It was hardly used in historical studies in which, generally, historians have always spoken of mercantile networks, putting more emphasis on trade and forgetting the importance of merchants For this reason, we consider the possibility of applying . the knowledge, which Sociology provides to us, to the study of social networks in order to analyze the economic and commercial past in the Crown of Castile. The creation of strong and extensive trade networks among merchants are an example of the importance of such social behaviour has had on the development of economy, trade and commercial companies. This sets a perfect field of study for our aim.
In this work, we propose the framework for analysis and the first results of the study of urban merchant families, mainly from Burgos, in the northern half of the Crown of Castile between 1480 and 1521. A work based on study cases through the methodology of social networks, trying to distinguish different types of relationships, social or economic, ways that families developed to obtain very different objectives: individual and group aims.