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About this book

Until recently, study of the early modern economy in Europe has tended to have heroes and villains: the former being the progressive and 'modern' economies of the Netherlands and England, and the latter being doomed, backward and Catholic Italy and Spain. This picture has now changed quite drastically, and there is far more emphasis on the general growth of the European economy during this period. The progressive removal of the neighbouring threats to European prosperity (particularly the gradual crippling of Ottoman power) created an environment which benefited all societies and not simply the traditionally emphasised 'Atlantic' economies.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
As in so many areas of historiography, the years since 1980 have seen major changes in the treatment of the European economy between the end of the Middle Ages and the Industrial Revolution. This change has not simply been one of new insights replacing the old as a result of the extension and refinement of knowledge about the period. What has happened has been a complete restructuring of the basic ideas and analytical structures within which historians’ understanding of the period is organised. This restructuring is much more than a simple revision of ways of looking at the period because it involves changing perspective on much of the history of the economic development of Europe since the Middle Ages. This new perspective changes the way in which the operation of societies in this period is perceived and interpreted.
Peter Musgrave

1. Development and Change

Abstract
All historians, even the most vehemently anti-theoretical, operate within a framework of ideas, assumptions or theories about the way history and historical process work and about what is and what is not of significance. Economic historians have a much greater tendency to operate within theories than most other types of historian. There are two key reasons for this.
Peter Musgrave

2. Stratagems and Spoils

Abstract
The economic theories reviewed in the previous chapter saw economies and economic change as being driven by great general changes in the conditions in which the economy operated. Individuals were broadly at the mercy of those grand economic forces, having very little if any choice in the economic courses they followed. As a consequence it was difficult to explain the differences between economic systems. The interplay of inevitable economic laws and similar circumstances should produce similar results, whether at the same period or over time, but clearly the reality was, and is, very different. Economic systems and economic responses are clearly not the same but widely diverse, and that diversity clearly cannot be explained within the framework of general laws. This failure of traditional economic interpretation has led to a refocusing on the individual units such as families or communities which make up the economy and on the ways in which, and the frameworks within which, they take the crucial economic decisions which go to make up the wider patterns of the economy and its operations. This has major implications for the ways in which historians see economic change, and in particular how economic change, or lack of change, are generated.
Peter Musgrave

3. The Rise of a Consumer Society

Abstract
The older interpretations of the early modern European economy centred around issues of production: how goods were produced, how raw materials were supplied, how the industries were organised and financed, how labour was employed. Questions about the demand for the goods produced, about the market for them, who consumed them and why and how they reached the consumer were subordinated to the topic of production to such an extent that issues of demand and consumption were largely ignored.
Peter Musgrave

4. The Role of the State

Abstract
Nowhere is the distinction between the early modern and the modern period so clearly seen as in the role and nature of the state. The traditional start and finish of the early modern period have conventionally been defined by political events. For traditional economic historians with their bias towards a nineteenth-century viewpoint the French Revolution marked the divide between the early modern and the modern. Over much of Europe, the most profound consequences of the Revolution and of the French expansion which followed it were political and administrative rather than social or economic. Despite their normal rejection of the importance of political change and political structures in economic change, the traditional historians considered their role as crucial in defining the difference between the periods.
Peter Musgrave

5. The Prosperity of the South

Abstract
In The Expansion of England, based on a series of lectures delivered in Cambridge and published in the late Victorian period,1 Sir John Seeley expressed what was to become the central item of belief of a whole school of early modern history. Although Seeley’s concerns were political and imperial, his perception of the fundamental changes in the overall structure and balance of power in Europe was profoundly important in shaping the way in which many economic historians in the century which followed the book’s publication saw the development of the economy of Europe between the fifteenth and the nineteenth centuries. Their version of Seeley stated that, in the Middle Ages and the Age of the Renaissance, the centre of Europe, economically as well as politically and culturally, lay south of the Alps, in the regions surrounding the Mediterranean, that is, southern France, eastern Spain — especially Catalonia — and above all, northern and central Italy. These regions, and the trade to the Levant and Asia which they dominated, had been the key to economic growth and development in Europe since the Ancient period. Through them flowed all Europe’s trade with Asia and to them flowed all the wealth which that trade generated. In particular, in the cities of the South there developed Europe’s first bourgeois societies and bourgeois patterns of consumption. Around this concentration of wealth and consumption grew up industry, finance and long-distance commerce within Europe. The connections of the Mediterranean system extended throughout Northern and Western Europe, reinforced by the political and religious position of the Papal Court in Rome. The Mediterranean was truly and decisively the centre of the European economy.
Peter Musgrave

6. The Prosperity of the North

Abstract
It is no easier to define those areas which belong to the North than it is to define those of the South. Certain areas, such as the Baltic, Scandinavia and the British Isles, are clearly northern because of their relative backwardness in and before the sixteenth century. Northern Germany, in particular the Baltic and North Sea littoral, dominated in the Middle Ages by the Hanseatic cities, was equally northern, although the boundary between ‘north’ and ‘south’ within Germany is and always has been uncertain and fluctuating. France north of the Loire undoubtedly belongs to the North, despite the importance of its southern commerce and its production for southern markets in, for instance, Champagne, in the sixteenth century and later. The area between the Loire and the Garonne is an awkward boundary zone, in some ways looking northwards for markets, but also looking to the South for many of its institutions.
Peter Musgrave

7. Europe’s Place in the World

Abstract
The early modern period has been traditionally seen by Europeans as the first great age in which Europe reached out beyond its geographical boundaries to trade with and ultimately colonise the non-European world. For many historians it was this very expansionism which distinguished the early modern period from what went before. The great explosion of Portuguese and Castilian (or Castilian-sponsored) exploration and then conquest which began in the mid-fifteenth century was seen as the point at which Europe, which had been under pressure from outside for the previous millennium, finally took the initiative and began to expand. This expansion altered the cultural and psychological profile of the continent and led to economic change, especially in the Atlantic regions, which were most conveniently placed geographically to benefit from extra-European maritime contact.
Peter Musgrave

Conclusion

Abstract
In the traditional historiography the end of the early modern period of economic history came very suddenly as the political and social system collapsed. Between 1780 and 1800 a whole political and social structure which had appeared rock-solid and secure collapsed into ruins. Beginning with the reforms of Joseph II in the Habsburg Empire in the 1780s, but really accelerating with the end of the Absolute Monarchy in France from the summer of 1789 onwards, the pre-modern world seemed to come to an end with startling suddenness and, it must be said, with startling ease. By 1815 there can be little doubt that the modern period had started; by that date, the political and social map of Europe had been irrevocably changed and the Age of Industry had begun.
Peter Musgrave
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