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Laurence Fontaine

This essay reflects on the theoretical and methodological complexities of the concept of social identity, using a case study of migrant merchants in early modern Europe. The essay opens with an analysis of historians’ usages of the important but contested concept of identity. Then, it attempts to demonstrate how the literate society, political and religious officials, sedentary merchants, and the host populations with which itinerant merchants entered into contact, tried to impose identities on these migrants. Finally, the study attempts to show how migrants used this polyphony of external representations in order to understand the limits of the merchants’ abilities to utilize these imposed identities for their own advantage.