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9-08-2015, 15:52


Economic transformations are sometimes called “revolutions” – the Commercial Revolution, the Price Revolution, the Industrial Revolution – and their effects can be as transformative as any political revolution. They are much slower processes, however, and often lack a clear beginning or end. The “rise of capitalism” is one of these long, slow, and uneven transformations. Economic historians sometimes joke that no matter when or where you look, capitalism always seems to be rising – there were businessowners who hired workers in the Roman Empire, merchants who engaged in diversifi ed, long-distance trade in the Indian Ocean in the twelfth century, entrepreneurs who invested in machinery in Ming China. Conversely, even in the twenty-fi rst century, large parts of the economy continue to operate largely outside the market – parents “invest” time and money in their children, family members carry out unpaid labor in the home or a family business, friends and neighbors share and exchange goods and services. Despite these continuities, however, the economy of many parts of Europe had changed signifi cantly during the period from 1450 to 1600. The vast majority of Europeans continued to live in villages and make their living by agriculture, but increasing population and rising prices of basic commodities led to a growing polarization of wealth. Although they did not have well-thought-out economic policies, governments at all levels and private groups such as guilds and trading companies often attempted to shape economic growth by imposing tariffs and taxes, setting wage rates, and passing other sorts of regulations. In western Europe, landless people often migrated in search of employment, while in eastern Europe noble landowners reintroduced serfdom, tying peasants to the land. Rural areas in both western and eastern Europe became more specialized in what they produced, dependent on the import and export of commodities. In northern Italy, the Netherlands, London, Paris, and a few other places, wealth increasingly came from trade and production, not land. Investment in equipment and machinery to process certain types of products, such as metals and cloth, increased signifi cantly, and successful capitalist merchant-entrepreneurs made vast fortunes in banking and money-lending. As they had in the Middle Ages, craft guilds continued to organize the production and distribution of most products, but richer masters increasingly hired poorer masters or sent work to the countryside, and it became more diffi cult for journeymen to rise to the position of master craftsman. In this era of rising prices, the poor supported themselves any way they could, and poor laws increasingly distinguished between “worthy” and “unworthy” poor, sending the latter group to newly established workhouses or banishing them. By 1600, European trading networks, labor fl ows, and systems for handling poor vagrants did not stop at the borders of Europe, but extended around the world. As we will see in the following chapter, mechanically fulled cloth from Europe not only clothed Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, but also sailors and nuns in the Philippines, and slaves, convicts, and planters in the Caribbean. QUESTIONS 1 How did the rise in population shape European economic and social structures during the period 1450–1600? 2 How were the lives of male and female peasants different in terms of work, wages, political authority, and living conditions? How were they the same? 3 What political and economic conditions led to the reintroduction of serfdom in eastern Europe, and how did this differ from earlier forms of serfdom in western Europe? 4 Why did the demand for metals increase in this era, and how did mining change as a result of this? 5 What new technologies and new institutions facilitated the expansion of commerce and banking, and the growth of cities, in this era? 6 How did poor people support themselves, and how did authorities respond to their actions in this period when attitudes toward poverty were changing? 7 The development of the “modern” world is often seen as the result of several central factors: the Renaissance, the Reformation, the growth of the nationstate, and the rise of capitalism. In your opinion, which of these was the most important? Why? FURTHER READING Excellent introductions to economic developments in this era are provided in Robert S. Duplessis, Transitions to Capitalism in Early Modern Europe ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press , 1997), and Peter Musgrave, The Early Modern European Economy ( London: Palgrave-Macmillan, 1999). For a broad survey that emphasizes culture as well as economics, see Joyce Appleby , The Relentless Revolution: A History of Capitalism ( New York : W.W. Norton , 2010). See also the classic study by Fernand Braudel, Civilization and Capitalism, 15th–18th Century, 3 vols. ( London: Collins, 1982–4). Considerations of several areas are included in Maarten Prak, ed., Early Modern Capitalism: Economic and Social Change in Europe ( New York : Routledge, 2001). Jerry Z. Muller provides a thorough analysis of ideas about capitalism in The Mind and the Market: Capitalism in Western Thought ( New York : Anchor , 2003), and a solid collection on the Weber thesis controversy is Hartmut Lehmann and Guenther Roth, eds., Weber’s Protestant Ethic: Origins, Evidence, Contexts ( Washington, DC : German Historical Institute , 1993). For government actions in shaping the economy over the long term, see Charles Tilly , Coercion, Capital, and European States, AD 990–1990 ( Oxford : Oxford University Press , 1990), and Charles Tilly and Wim P. Blockman, eds., Cities and the Rise of States in Europe, AD 1000–1800 ( Boulder: University of Colorado Press , 1994). For the effects of long-term infl ation, see David Hackett Fischer , The Great Wave: Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History ( Oxford : Oxford University Press , 1996). For the rural economy, see Jan de Vries , The Dutch Rural Economy in the Golden Age, 1500–1700 ( New Haven : Yale University Press , 1974); Margaret Spufford , Contrasting Communities: English Villagers in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press , 1974); Peter Kriedte, Peasants, Landlords and Merchant Capitalists ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press , 1983); Philip T. Hoffman , Growth in a Traditional Society: The French Countryside, 1450–1815 ( Princeton: Princeton University Press , 1996); Paul Warde , Ecology, Economy and State Formation in Early Modern Germany (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press , 2010). For eastern Europe, see Vera Zimányi, Economy and Society in Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century Hungary (1526–1650), trans. Mátyás Esterházy ( Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó , 1987), and Antonie Maczak, Henryk Samsonowicz, and Peter Burke, eds., East-Central Europe in Transition from the Fourteenth to the Seventeenth Century ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press , 1985). For trade and production, see D. C. Coleman, Industry in Tudor and Stuart England (London: Macmillan, 1975), and John Munro , Textiles, Towns and Trade: Essays in the Economic History of Late-Medieval England and the Low Countries ( Aldershot: Macmillan, 1994). For more detailed information on cloth and clothing, see N. B. Harte and Kenneth G. Ponting, eds., Cloth and Clothing in Medieval Europe: Essays in Memory of Professor E. M. Carus-Wilson ( London: Heinemann, 1983). For ship-building, see R. W. Unger , Dutch Shipbuilding before 1800: Ships and Guilds ( Assen: Van Gorcum , 1978). For banking and credit, see the older, but still useful, Raymond de Roover , Business, Banking, and Economic Thought in Late Medieval and Early Modern Europe ( Chicago: University of Chicago Press , 1974). For recent studies that examine the cultural meaning of commerce, see Craig Muldrew , The Economy of Obligation: The Culture of Credit and Social Relations in Early Modern England ( London: Palgrave-Macmillan, 1998), and Martha Howell, Commerce before Capitalism in Europe, 1300–1600 ( New York : Cambridge University Press , 2010). Studies of urban developments include Paul M. Hohenberg and Lynn Hollen Lees, The Making of Urban Europe, 1000–1994 ( Cambridge, MA : Harvard University Press , 1995); Christopher R. Friedrichs, The Early Modern City, 1450–1750 ( London: Longman, 1995); Peter Clark and Bernard Lepetit, Capital Cities and their Hinterlands in Early Modern Europe (Aldershot, UK : Macmillan, 1996); S. R. Epstein, ed., Town and Country in Europe, 1300– 1800 ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press , 2001); Richard A. Goldthwaite, The Economy of Renaissance Florence ( Baltimore : Johns Hopkins University Press , 2009). For guilds, see Richard Mackenney , The World of the Guilds in Venice and Europe, c. 1250–1650 ( Totowa, NJ: Barnes and Noble , 1987), Steven Epstein, Wage Labor and Guilds in Medieval Europe (Chapel Hill, NC : University of North Carolina Press , 1991), and especially the sweeping new analysis by Sheilagh Ogilvie, Institutions and European Trade: Merchant Guilds, 1000–1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press , 2011). For issues regarding poverty, see Catharina Lis and Hugh Soly , Poverty and Capitalism in Early Modern Europe ( Atlantic Highlands, NJ : Humanities Press , 1979); Maureen Flynn, Sacred Charity: Confraternities and Social Welfare in Spain, 1400–1700 ( Ithaca, NY : Cornell University Press , 1989); Brian Pullan, Rich and Poor in Renaissance Venice: The Social Institutions of a Catholic State to 1620 ( Cambridge, MA : Harvard University Press , 1971); Robert Jütte, Poverty and Deviance in Early Modern Europe ( Cambridge: Cambridge University Press , 1994); Patricia Fumerton, Unsettled: The Culture of Mobility and the Working Poor in Early Modern England ( Chicago: University of Chicago Press , 2006). For more suggestions and links see the companion website www.cambridge.org/wiesnerhanks . NOTE 1 Miguel de Cervantes , Don Quixote, trans. John Ormsby ( New York : W. W. Norton , 1981), ch. 20.