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The Cambridge Economic History of Europe
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  • CHAPTER I - The Historical Study of Economic Growth and Decline in Early Modern History
    pp 1-41
    • By C. H. Wilson, Professor of Modern History in the University of Cambridge, and Professor of History and Civilization in the European University Institute at Florence
  • View abstract


    Recent decades have seen important changes in the objectives, techniques and methodologies of economic history in Europe. Early modern history, the age of the modern state, has traditionally been for economic historians the age of the mercantilist state and economy. The concept of mercantilism, a complex of ideas and policies designed to achieve national power and, ostensibly, wealth, has long been a source of controversy amongst historians. In recent economic historiography it is the village, or region, or continent which has tended to become the 'sites' most appropriate to the techniques and objectives of historians trying to fit together the diverse elements in particular socio-economic historical situations. This chapter reviews new techniques that have been used to help explain the growth or decline of national economies, very successfully in the case of the Dutch Republic, the economic prodigy of Europe from the 1590s, and of seventeenth-century France; partially in the case of Spain.
  • CHAPTER II - Agriculture in the Vital Revolution
    pp 42-132
  • View abstract


    Before the Second World War agrarian history was invariably treated either as a legal or as a technically agricultural study. The agricultural line of investigation generally confines itself to the history of crops, crop rotation systems, breeds of cattle or agricultural implements and machines. The economic and social evolution of rural, pre-industrial society and even the technical development of agriculture cannot be understood without a knowledge of the history of prices and population. During the period from 1500 to 1800, almost everywhere in Europe more than half the working population was still employed in agriculture. External factors which might seriously affect agrarian production include weather conditions and plant and animal diseases. The relationship between plant growth, and weather conditions is more complicated than is generally assumed in historical literature. There are three factors of importance to the growth of plants, such as temperature, precipitation and intensity of light.
  • CHAPTER III - The European Fisheries in Early Modern History
    pp 133-184
  • View abstract


    The position of fishing in the European economy changed substantially during the early modern period. This chapter focuses on elucidating the general relationships and constraints which moulded the fishing industry and the fish trade, and the general fortunes of the cod and herring industries, rather than technical considerations. Every type of fishery is subject to enormous fluctuations in the catch. Winds and fluctuating temperatures add to the natural hazards, not just during the fishing period itself, but during the whole life cycle of the fish. In most ranges of economic activity in Europe there is evidence of a dual economy. Donald Coleman has pointed this out in relation to the cloth industry, and further investigation would shed light on its action in many other spheres. The chapter discusses Scottish herring fishery, English herring industry, Dutch herring fishery, French herring fishery, cod fishery, whale fishery, pilchard fishery and mackerel fishery.
  • CHAPTER IV - The Changing Patterns of Trade
    pp 185-289
  • View abstract


    Foreign trade was the great wheel setting the machinery of society into motion and was the driving force of the nation. The ship was often chosen as the symbol of this dynamic. This chapter first describes the role played by the shipping industry in the trade of agricultural goods. It was not only around the sea-routes that international trade flourished, however. Professor van der Wee has drawn attention to the motor function performed by the transcontinental route between Flanders and south Germany-Italy. The chapter then looks at consumption, with a view to discovering other features of interest to an analysis of some of the fundamental conditions of European trade in the period 1500-1750. One way of establishing a birds eye view of European trade is to approach it geographically. Another is to analyse trade in terms of commodities. The chapter describes both these complementary approaches. Finally, it focuses on European markets and how they were organized.
  • CHAPTER V - Monetary, Credit and Banking Systems
    pp 290-392
  • View abstract


    Urban and rural markets, weekly markets and fairs, multiplied in Europe or intensified their activity, assisting the penetration of the local economy by money and credit in many forms. The difficulties which the local economy encountered with the easing of the circulation of money were not confined to problems of debasement or revaluation of its own coinage, or of the diversity of the systems of moneys of account. However, important metallic money might be in the local economy of the modern age, it in no way hampered the development of credit. The international flows of specie throughout the modern age were doubtless strongly influenced by movements of capital and in particular by government transfers. Control of public finance and taxation were not the exclusive domain of the central governments during the modern age. Western Europe especially was characterized by a bewildering gap between the growing power of state authority and its inability to substantiate this power financially and fiscally.
  • CHAPTER VI - The Nature of Enterprise
    pp 393-461
  • View abstract


    The characteristics of economic enterprise between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries bear only an oblique resemblance to those of enterprise in the more recent, industrialized environment. This chapter illustrates the diverse nature of enterprise in the early modern period. It first discusses economic aspects of the framework of enterprise, and then emphasizes that economic institutions and market forces naturally dominated the entrepreneurial scene. The role of enterprise was no less important in an economic environment in which rate of change was slow than it was to be in one where change was very rapid. The intimate connection between finance and trade in the early modern period meant that the financial was frequently indistinguishable from the commercial entrepreneur. The chapter focuses on industrial enterprise, corporate enterprise, European aristocracy and European nations. It concludes that entrepreneurial problems and the techniques designed to solve those problems were largely derived from the risks of an underdeveloped economy.
  • CHAPTER VII - The Organization of Industrial Production
    pp 462-548
  • View abstract


    This chapter focuses on industrial location, industrial organization, technological progress, private entrepreneurship, labour force and industrial production. The economic situation of Europe after 1500 was to favour the growth of industrial production more than at any time since the Black Death. Many factors contributed to the development of industrial activity in certain areas of Europe in the later Middle Ages. Adequate supplies of raw materials, such as water, power and fuel as well as the primary product, the presence of an entrepreneurial class and a sufficient supply of cheap labour were all essential. The development of many European industries was directly affected by the nature of their organization. Many products were made by small masters, their families, with some journeymen and apprentices organized in craft gilds. In order to create an industrial plant, capital was indispensable. Capital was especially needed more in mining and in large-scale metallurgy.
  • CHAPTER VIII - Government and Society
    pp 549-620
  • View abstract


    Since the days when the interest of historians was principally focused on forms of government the age of absolutism has been a label commonly attached to the period of European history between 1660 and 1789. Mercantilism as practised on the continent of Europe was an essential concomitant of absolutism and developed in every state pari passu with the growth in the monarch's power. To the Germans, mercantilism seems an integral part of the Enlightenment because of the rational and secular nature of its thinking. The Cameralism or mercantilism of central Europe was distinguished from its French counterpart because the study of its doctrines constituted an academic discipline which was obligatory for all the holders of administrative posts, and because the rulers themselves were its most receptive students. Civilization in the age of absolutism rested on a peasant base. In the major continental countries the Physiocrats' gospel appealed most strongly to the governments that found themselves in difficulties.


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