In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Guilds and Manufacturing

  • Introduction
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Debates
  • Apprenticeship
  • Female Labor
  • Labor Mobility
  • Quality Control
  • Innovation
  • Social Capital
  • Monopoly
  • Guilds and Proto-industry
  • Government
  • Law and Justice

Renaissance and Reformation Guilds and Manufacturing
Andrea Caracausi
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 May 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 September 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0329


Guilds were one of the most important and widespread associations that organized trade and manufactures from the Middle Age to the early 19th century. In general, they established a set of rules concerning the entrance into the trade (via apprenticeship, journeymenship, and mastership), the quality and quantity of products, the number of employees per employers, and the type of technology used as well as other activities. They contracted with public authorities to secure official recognition and they were normally made by employers; workers were excluded or relegated to minor ranks. Apart from their economic activities, guilds carried out many social and religious functions, provided social welfare, and represented a political body. Since the late 18th century historiography has generally described guilds as archaic, sclerotic, or rent-seeking institutions. Since the 1980s and 1990s social and economic historians have reevaluated their activities, with debate both critical and uncritical of the institutions. For that reason, guilds have become one of the most debated topics in the fields of history and the social sciences.

General Overviews

Guilds have been studied according to various perspectives. Epstein 2004 and Medieval Guilds are encyclopedia entries that address the main topics and research interests. Revel 1995 and Thrupp 1963 focus more on the social and political aspects of guilds, while Epstein 2004 and Ogilvie 2014 highlight the economic debate. Thrupp 1963 analyzes the genesis of medieval guilds, and Lucassen, et al. 2008 addresses the most recent historiographical questions in a global perspective.

  • Epstein, Stephan R. “Craft Guilds.” In The Oxford Encyclopedia of Economic History. Vol. 1. Edited by Joel Mokyr, 35–39. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

    An encyclopedia entry that summarizes the main arguments concerning “rehabilitation” of guilds, especially from the perspective of economic history. Useful for new scholars in the field.

  • Lucassen, Jan, Tine de Moor, and Jan Luiten van Zanden. “The Return of the Guilds: Towards a Global History of the Guilds in Pre-industrial Times.” International Review of Social History 53.Suppl. S16 (2008): 5–18.

    DOI: 10.1017/S0020859008003581

    Offers arguments to explain the development of guilds taking a global and comparative approach focusing on topics such as urbanization, political economy, human capital, and social relations.

  • Ogilvie, Sheilagh. “The Economics of Guilds.” Journal of Economic Perspectives 28.4 (November 2014): 169–192.

    DOI: 10.1257/jep.28.4.169

    Against the focus on guild “rehabilitation” that most economic historians have advanced since the 1990s, Ogilvie offers an alternative interpretation of the economic impact of guilds with respect to human capital, information asymmetries, contract enforcement, innovation, and other topics.

  • Revel, Jacques. “Corps et Communautés Dans La France d’Ancien Régime.” In Culture et formation négociantes dans l’Europe moderne. Edited by Franco Angiolini and Daniel Roche, 555–576. Paris: Éditions de l’École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, 1995.

    A survey of French guilds that focuses on their social and political role during the Early Modern period. The article highlights the multifaceted characteristics of corporative bodies.

  • Richardson, Gary. “Medieval Guilds.” Tucson, AZ: Economic History Association.

    Describes the origin of the medieval guilds, their activity and taxonomy, structure and organization, chronology and impact.

  • Thrupp, Silvia. “The Gilds.” In The Cambridge Economic History of Europe. Vol. 3, Economic Organization and Policies in the Middle Ages. Edited by M. M. Postan, E. E. Rich, and Edward Miller, 230–280. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1963.

    In this survey of medieval guilds, the author is skeptical of traditional criticism of the previous interpretation of craft guilds and offers an overview ranging from the organization of guilds to their influence in local trade, export, and innovation.

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