The master ship builders of seventeenth-century Venice formed part of what was arguably the greatest manufacturing complex in early modern Europe. As many as three thousand masters, apprentices, and laborers regularly worked in the city's enormous shipyards. This is the social history of the men and women who helped maintain not only the city's dominion over the sea but also its stability and peace.
Drawing on a variety of documents that include nearly a thousand petitions from the shipbuilders to the Venetian governments as well as on parish records, inventories, and wills, Robert C. Davis offers a vivid and compelling account of these early modern workers. He explores their mentality and describes their private and public worlds (which in some ways, he argues, prefigured the factories and company towns of a later era). He uncovers the far-reaching social and cultural role played by women in this industrial community. He shows how the Venetian government formed its shipbuilders into a militia to maintain public order. And he describes the often colorful ways in which Venetians dealt with the tensions that role provoked-including officially sanctioned community fistfights on the city's bridges.
The recent decision by the Italian government to return the Venetian Arsenal to civilian control has sparked renewed interest in the subject among historians. Shipbuilders of the Venetian Arsenal offers new evidence on the ways in which large, state-run manufacturing operations furthered the industrialization process, as well as on the extent of workers' influence on the social dynamics of the early modern European city.
Robert C. Davis is a professor of Italian Renaissance and early modern Mediterranean history at the Ohio State University. His publications include The Jews of Early Modern Venice, The War of the Fists, and (coedited with Judith Brown) Gender and Society in Renaissance Italy.