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14 - Economics and History: Analysing Serfdom

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 December 2022

Richard Bourke
University of Cambridge
Quentin Skinner
Queen Mary University of London
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This chapter considers the widely hypothesized antithesis between economics and history, and argues that the two disciplines are not substitutes but complements. It develops its argument through demonstration, by exploring how economics and history together provide complementary approaches to analyzing a specific historical institution: serfdom. To draw out general implications of such disciplinary complementarities, it scrutinizes three scholarly controversies about serfdom – how it shaped peasant choices, how it constrained these choices, and how it affected entire societies. To resolve these controversies, it shows, economics and history each brings special expertise, which have proven most productive when used jointly. The essay uses these debates about serfdom in particular to draw implications concerning the mutually reinforcing capacities of economics and history in general. It concludes that by working together, economics and history have improved our understanding of pre-modern society to a much greater extent than either discipline could have achieved in isolation.

Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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