Book Series Studies in European Urban History (1100-1800), vol. 11

Technologies of Learning

Apprenticeship in Antwerp Guilds from the 15th Century to the End of the Ancien Régime

Bert De Munck

  • Pages: 306 p.
  • Size:180 x 250 mm
  • Illustrations:19 b/w
  • Language(s):English
  • Publication Year:2008

  • ISBN: 978-2-503-52270-8
  • Paperback
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  • ISBN: 978-2-503-55937-7
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 The importance of training and education is on the increase. While the production of ‘human capital’ is seen as a motor for a competitive economy, skills and expertise proof to be necessary for social mobility. Remarkably, in conceiving modern forms of ‘apprenticeship’, several mechanisms from the acien régime, seem to return. The difference between public and private initiative is disappearing, education and training is being confused, and in order to acquire generic skills as flexibility, communicability, self-rule, creativity and so on, youngsters have to learn ‘in context’. Even for maths, scholars now talk of ‘situated learning’.

 Before the advent of a formal schooling system, training took place on the shop floor, under the roof of a master. The apprentice not only worked but also lived in his master’s house and was thus trained and educated at the same time. In cities, this system was formally complemented by an official apprenticeship system, prescribing a minimum term to serve and an obligatory masterpiece for those who wanted to become masters themselves. Traditionally, historians see this as an archaic and backward way of training, yet this book’s aim is to show that is was instead a very flexible and dynamic system, perfectly in tune with the demands of an early modern economy.

 In order to understand it fully, however, we should differentiate the informal training system organised via a ‘free market’ of indentures on the one hand and the institutionalised system of craft guilds on the other. In Antwerp, early modern guilds had a project of ‘emancipating’ their members. They didn’t simply produce certain skills, but through a system of quality marks defended the honour of craftsmen. This is the difference with current practices. By representing hands-on skills as superior, guilds supplied a sort of symbolic capital for workers.


Bert De Munck is lecturer at the University of Antwerp and member of the Centre for Urban History. His research focuses on the history of the guilds, vocational training and social capital.