Publication Date

January 1, 2009

Perspectives Section

In Memoriam

Scholar of trade and banking in 13th-century Italy

Thomas W. Blomquist, 76, passed away Wednesday, August 17, 2007. Born March 3, 1931, in St. Paul, Minnesota, he was the son of Donald P. and Charlotte N. Blomquist. He was raised in Hopkins, Minnesota, and was educated at Shattuck School and Dartmouth College. After completing his BA in history, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, serving on active duty in Korea and Japan in 1953–54. Then for two years he worked in sales in Minneapolis and southern Minnesota before going to Europe, where he settled in Florence, Italy, and enrolled in the University of Florence on the G.I. Bill. During this period, he also hitchhiked through all of Europe. In 1957, he returned to Minneapolis for graduate work in history at the University of Minnesota. He earned his MA and began working on a doctorate. In 1962 he was awarded a Fulbright fellowship for research on medieval Lucca, one of numerous grants he received during his career. In Italy, he met and married Clelia Palmerio of Florence. They returned to the United States in 1963, and he finished his dissertation and received his doctorate two years later. Meanwhile, he assumed a position in the history department at Northern Illinois University (NIU) in DeKalb, where he and his wife raised two children, Charles and Maria. He worked at NIU as a teacher and scholar for 32 years.

His main field of research was the development of trade and banking in 13th-century Lucca and the individuals and families involved in it. No documents or account books survive from 13th-century Lucchese companies, but this lack can to some extent be made up from the many notarial cartularies preserved in the Archivio di Stato and the archives of the bishop and chapter of Lucca. While making use of any material available, Tom Blomquist’s research was conducted essentially on the basis of these notarial cartularies, a field in which he was a pioneer. He was very sensitive to the nature of his sources. He estimated that perhaps only a tenth of the notarial material that was originally produced has survived, and cautioned that care is needed to avoid assuming that the information they contain is comprehensive even for the companies and individuals they cover. They may also have used other notaries, and while Lucchese cartularies contain much information about the provision of exchange for the Fairs of Champagne, there is little or nothing on the movement of funds in the other direction, and even less about on-the-spot money changing, which did not require the involvement of a notary. With these necessary cautions in mind, he was able to reconstruct the activities of Lucchese merchants in a period that was crucial both for the development of Italian trade and for the emergence of recognizable lineages that were eventually to become families prominent in Lucca in the 14th and 15th centuries. His reconstruction of the Castracani family demonstrated the essentially commercial background of the later tyrant Castruccio Castracani, and Blomquist dealt in several articles with the Ricciardi Company, which was of international importance until almost the end of the 13th century. He was able to tr ace its origins, identify many of those involved in it, and evaluate the nature and scope of their activities. He demonstrated the prominence of members of the Guidiccioni family in the company and in a related article discussed their investment in real estate, also providing an interesting sidelight of the Ricciardi themselves by illustrating their rural holdings and involvement with their tenants in the Pieve of Segromigno.

Tom Blomquist’s research enabled him to contribute from Lucchese evidence to debates that had been conducted primarily on the basis of the experience of Florence and Siena: family solidarity or nuclearization, forms of organization of merchant companies, the admission of outsiders to family-based companies, the date and extent of involvement in the Fairs of Champagne, the role and scale of credit in trade at all levels from great international companies to the supply of imported cloth to rural peddlers. His concern for precise details of individuals, dates, quantities, and sums put his interpretations on a new level of accuracy.

Many years of ill health prevented him from producing the monograph on Lucchese merchants and bankers that he was so eminently well qualified to write and was eagerly anticipated by scholars of medieval trade and banking. He published an edited book with Maureen F. Mazzaloui, The ‘Other Tuscany’: Essays in the History of Lucca, Pisa and Siena during the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Centuries (1994), and 2005 saw the appearance of reprints of sixteen of his articles in the series Variorum Collected Studies published by Ashgate under the title Merchant Families, Banking and Money in Medieval Lucca. Tom Blomquist was able to see it through the press and take pleasure in its favorable reception by scholars and reviewers.

He is survived by his wife, Clelia Palmerio; two children, Charles Blomquist of Baltimore, Md., and Maria Blomquist of Rome, Italy.

University of Virginia Christine Meek
Trinity College Dublin

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