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The Gender of Europe's Commercial Economy, 1200–1700



This essay proposes that between about 1200 and 1700, commerce was rescued from the margins of the European moral economy with the help of a gender binary that took shape among a rising class of European merchant and artisan families. Among this class, a more rigid sexual division of labour was accompanied by a cultural narrative that credited tradesmen with the ability to serve the social whole and charged their wives and daughters with the task of ridding consumption of the taint of sin. The story of the commercial revolution in Europe was, thus, in part a social, legal and cultural history that redefined male and female for a rising class of people and, in fact, helped define the class itself.