Artisan Entrepreneurs in Cairo

Nelly Hanna


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(2011) The role and economy of craftspeople in early modern Egypt.

While historians have mined archives and court documents to create a picture of the commercial activities, networks, and infrastructure of merchants in Egypt prior to its incorporation into the European capitalist economy, few have documented a similar picture of the artisans and craftspeople. Artisans outnumbered merchants and their economic weight was considerable, yet details about their lives, the way they carried out their work, and their role or position in the economy is largely unknown. Nelly Hanna seeks to redress this gap by locating and exploring the role of artisans in the historical process. These artisans developed a variety of capitalist practices, both as individuals and collectively in their guilds. Hanna details how they defied the constraints of the guilds and actively engaged in the markets of Europe, demonstrating how Egyptian artisan production was able to compete and survive in a landscape of growing European trade. Deftly synthesizing a wide range of economic and historical theory, Hanna reinvigorates the current scholarship on early Ottoman history and provides a persuasive challenge to the largely shallow perception of artisans’ role in Egypt’s economy.