Merchants and Shopkeepers: A Historical Anthropology of an Irish Market Town, 1200-1991


440 pages
Contains Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-7597-5
DDC 380.1'094189




Reviewed by Jeremy Caple

Jeremy Caple is an assistant professor of history at Wilfrid Laurier
University in Waterloo.


The authors of this fascinating book argue that the work of anthropology
benefits “not by macro-studies, quantitative analysis and modelling,
but ... [through] a method which uses empirical case studies of agents,
networks, resources and interests.” Here they draw upon the historical
record of the small market town of Thomastown in order to develop
general views of social processes in western Europe.

Thomastown is a community that has maintained an integrity over the
past several hundred years through the experience of intensified
centralization and intrusive control (Tudor era), conquest and
subsequent domination by an imported elite (post-Cromwell), insurgency
against English rule (early 19th century), and the general economic
problems associated with a small trading town. Concentrating on the
forces that acted to both alter and sustain vital constituent elements
within the town, Gulliver and Silverman demonstrate how trading
networks, class, and an almost overwhelming concern with ethnicity
helped to shape, and to a great extent nourish, this community over
time. Their study demonstrates how a sensitive handling of diverse
documentary evidence can offer a stimulating glimpse of the past, and
how a multiplicity of local studies can help us to grasp the social and
economic processes that drive the world we inhabit. Local studies of
this nature provide a comprehensible scale and allow the apparently
unimportant actors to surface.


Gulliver, P.H., and Marilyn Silverman., “Merchants and Shopkeepers: A Historical Anthropology of an Irish Market Town, 1200-1991,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 25, 2024,