Industrious households: Wealth management and 'Handwerker' strategies in Goeppingen, 1735--1865

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Frederick D. Marguardt


Handwerker, Households, Germany, Wealth management, Goeppingen

Subject Categories

European History | History


This dissertation is a socio-cultural history of the artisans in the southwest-German town of the town of Göppingen from 1735 to 1865. Borrowing methodologies from both sociologists and cultural anthropologists, I conducted an intensive investigation of their material wealth and possessions as captured in a long series of death inventories. Through a detailed study of this source material, the dissertation reveals the various strategies and behaviors employed by them, as their corporate world of the eighteenth century metamorphasized into the capitalist world of the nineteenth century. The basic trend in wealth was a fundamental polarization between the richest and the poorest Handwerker, which in turn brought, as both cause and effect, a complicated pattern of differentiations between the individual wealth strata. The wealthiest families, for instance, made good use of their economic resources and even picked up new economic strategies, like innovative investments in capital loans, while they easily acquired all of the material trappings that signified their respectability. The poorest families, who had always lacked economic resources, still attempted to carve out room for maneuver, too. They increased their debt-burdens and allocated more of their wealth to material commodities that carried both social and cultural capital. Although growing disparities in resources and some behaviors differentiated the wealth strata, the craftspeople in Göppingen nonetheless operated within a set of alternatives that was commonly accepted by all. In particular, from the late eighteenth century onwards, novel furnishings, such as easy-chairs, sofas, clocks, portraits, etc., supplemented the standard, basic items found in most artisanal households, and new fashions and pieces of clothing replaced older ones as most families readily adopted the new bourgeois culture. To be sure quantity and quality of these new material possessions still distinguished the rich from the poor, but a strong sense of unity continued to prevail. Indeed, in the pietistic literature owned by nearly all artisans, they found a common identity, one that emphasized perseverance through their difficult lives. Therefore, it appears that the range of strategies and behaviors, including newly created ones, fitted into a relatively elastic, shared set of beliefs and mores among the Göppingen artisanate.


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