History seminars at the IHR

The 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: John S Cohen Room 203, 2nd floor, IHR, North block, Senate House


Time: Friday, 5.15pm

Spring Term 2015
DateSeminar details
16 January Occupational Structure under the Second Serfdom: Evidence from Early Modern Bohemia

Sheilagh Ogilvie (University of Cambridge), co-authored with Alexander Klein (University of Kent)

Changes in occupational structure are widely regarded as a key component of the early modern ‘Little Divergence’ between the economies of northwest Europe and those of the east and south. But we still know little about this development in an important group of early modern economies – those subject to the huge growth of landlords’ institutional powers under the ‘second serfdom’. This paper examines this question for Bohemia (the modern Czech Republic) using data on 6,983 villages in 1654. Non-agricultural activity was lower than in western Europe, but varied substantially across Bohemian communities, and was significantly associated with variations in social, economic and demographic characteristics of both villages and feudal estates. It also manifested a complicated relationship with the 'second serfdom', as proxied by landlord presence on village holdings. Under the second serfdom, landlords encouraged serf activities from which they could extract rents, while stifling others which threatened manorial interests.


30 January Experiencing the French Liberalisation Experiment in Tours, 1763-1775

Daisy Gibbs (UCL)

The paper deals with the national integration of the French economy in the eighteenth century. I have tried to take a novel approach by looking at contemporary attitudes to the liberalisation of the grain trade which took place in 1763 in the administrative region of Tours in north-west France. Before 1763 in Tours, as in all of France, grain merchants were restricted in the way that they could carry out their trade. This helped to perpetuate localist consumption practices. However, when new legislation removed the ancient measures which precluded a national and international trade in grain, food riots became more commonplace across France, and in Tours. The paper examines the causes and consequences of the worst of these riots in 1774. It concludes that national economic integration and the commercialisation of the grain market was not only impeded by practical and infrastructural inefficiencies, but also by conscious rejection on the part of individuals and communities because of their concern, in emergencies, for local survival and their unwillingness to participate in an unstable national economy. This also had implications for experiences of nationality and patriotism, as the riots were construed by some authorities as being unpatriotic and in contempt of the national good, which to them required a national grain trade.


13 February The price of trust. Jamaica, the Jewish diaspora and Spanish American trade, 1655-1730

Nuala Zahedieh (University of Edinburgh) 

Diasporic communities are commonly seen as either antiquated remnants of a pre-industrial world or idyllic consortia of kith and kin. This paper moves beyond these stereotypes by looking at the context and explanations for the success of Jewish communities in the British Atlantic world. They were concentrated at crossing points between empires such as Jamaica which the British used to access valuable Spanish American markets. In Spain’s eyes, the trade was entirely illegal and, as long as it maintained this position, it was impossible to provide the state-backed protections which arose to strengthen commerce within legitimate commercial channels and which the New Institutional Economics sees as having played a necessary role in the expansion of long-distance trade. Contraband traders relied on private order institutions and faced high transactions costs.  Official records, commercial correspondence, and court records show that it was difficult to make a profit but, nonetheless, as measured by persistence rates, market share, and wealth accumulation, a small Jewish community survived and flourished. Their tools included strong links to communities in Spanish America, high quality information, and credible punishment power which was translated into lower transaction costs, lower prices, and lower commission rates. These competitive advantages gave them bargaining power which allowed them to capture various rent-seeking opportunities. Jewish communities exploited their competitive advantages to develop modern management strategies which played a necessary role in making cross-cultural commerce work.


27 February English agricultural development 1270-1870: reflections on new estimates of output and productivity

Mark Overton (University of Exeter)

British economic growth, 1270-1870 by Broadberry, Campbell, Klein, van Leeuwen, and Overton, presents new evidence on agricultural production and productivity as part of a project to measure GDP in Britain over six centuries. This paper considers some of the implications of this new data for our understanding of agricultural development in England, both in terms of the overall interpretive framework and in relation to existing interpretations of agricultural change.


13 March State Centralization on Europe's Periphery in the Middle Ages: Scotland and Poland Compared

Leigh Gardner (LSE) and Mikolaj Malinowski (Utrecht University)

The emergence of a centralized state capable of integrating markets and enforcing property rights is seen as a crucial moment in the economic development of countries at the core of Europe. Current work dates this emergence to as early as 1066 in England. This work has, however, largely neglected countries on Europe’s periphery.  This paper compares the histories of two such countries, Scotland and Poland, from the twelfth to fourteenth centuries in order to examine the particular opportunities and challenges faced by peripheral countries in establishing and maintaining stable centralized regime. During the period under study, both Poland and Scotland went through phases of centralization and decentralization linked to both international trade and the interventions of more powerful neighbouring states. To understand these movements, we analyse the relations between central and regional elites qualitatively based on both contemporary sources and secondary literature. We study the incentives the local elites had to align themselves with a particular central authority or remain independent. In particular we look at the need for protection, the legalization or legitimation of political power, and formation of an environment conducive to trade.