Shopping in the Renaissance

Kathryn Hughes reviews Evelyn Welch’s book, in The Guardian:

Dashing out to the shops in early modern Venice or Florence you would have seen some strikingly familiar sights. There were groups of giggling teenage girls touching and trying everything. Harassed housewives scooted round, grabbing basics as if in an obstacle race. Solitary men lingered and pondered and lingered some more over status-boosting luxury purchases. Cheapskates hunted for a bargain, while others spent up to their credit limit, returning home sick and giddy with the realisation of what they had just done.

Evelyn Welch’s Shopping in the Renaissance, however, is concerned with a lot more than proving that nothing much changes over the centuries when you’re in desperate need of a pint of milk or some new curtains. Her interest in shopping arises from its status as an invisible activity, so embedded in the rhythms and disciplines of the everyday that it barely breaks the surface of our consciousness. We do it, just as the Italians of the Renaissance did it, almost without noticing. But by making shopping explicit, argues Welch, by seeing it for what it is – a whole series of social, cultural as well as financial transactions all bound up in the exchange of a few warm coins or a handshake – it should be possible to get deep into the mindset of early modern Europe.

More here.