Indispensable Immigrants

The Wine Porter of Northern Italy and Their Saint, 1200-1800

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Lester K. Little
  • Manchester, England: 
    Manchester University Press
    , April
     176 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Indispensable immigrants recreates the world of peasants who streamed into the cities of late-medieval and early modern northern Italy to carry crushingly heavy containers of wine. Written in an easily accessible and unassuming style, it is solidly grounded in previously untapped archival and visual sources. In this first ever reconstruction of the forgotten métier of wine porter, topography plays a key role in forming the labour market; in the scramble to distinguish professionals from manual labourers the term artist gets divorced from lowly artisan, and wretched diet is invoked to explain why workers are so unintelligent; the wine porters make one of their own their patron saint in thirteenth-century Cremona and other interest groups scheme successfully to get him canonised in Rome five centuries later; and when enlightened despots abolish the guilds, the wine porters' trade fades away just as the candles on their patron's altars sputter and die out.

About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Lester K. Little is professor emeritus of history at Smith College and a former Director of the American Academy in Rome.



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