History seminars at the IHR

Economic and Social History of the Early Modern World

Convenors: Julian Hoppit (UCL), Alejandra Irigoin (LSE), Anne Murphy (University of Hertfordshire), David Ormrod (University of Kent) and Nuala Zahedieh (University of Edinburgh)

Venue: Room 304, 3rd floor, IHR, North block, Senate House

Time: Friday, 5.15pm

Summer Term 2015
DateSeminar details
5 June Title: tba

Edmond Smith (University of Cambridge)

19 June By weight or number? The international comparison of prices and wages

Professor Nick Mayhew (Ashmolean Museum)

Historians often convert monetary sums to their silver weight equivalent in order to compare them over time or between different countries. Yet this widespread practice fails to recognize that the value of silver varied significantly over time and from place to place, making silver an unreliable yardstick. Moreover, the silver coins in circulation frequently weighed much less than their theoretical legal weight, so it is not usually possible to calculate the weight of silver actually involved in transactions. In any case calculating silver weight equivalents is not necessary for comparing living standards internationally, which is best done by examining the ratio of prices to wages.

Time spent mistakenly converting sums to silver weight would be better devoted to improving the quality of our nominal price and wage data, in order to repair the sometimes fragile foundations of much global economic history. Eighteenth and nineteenth-century data from England, Strasbourg, and China is reviewed.