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The Birth of Modern Europe: Culture and Economy, 1400-1800: Essays in Honor of Jan de Vries

Author(s):Cruz, Laura
Mokyr, Joel
Reviewer(s):Hohenberg, Paul M.

Published by EH.NET (December 2011)

Laura Cruz and Joel Mokyr, editors, The Birth of Modern Europe: Culture and Economy, 1400-1800: Essays in Honor of Jan de Vries. Leiden: Brill, 2010. xiv + 259 pp.. ?99/$141 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-90-04-18934-8.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Paul M. Hohenberg. Department of Economics, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (emeritus).

Festschrifts are an honored tradition, a celebration of the work and influence of a distinguished scholar usually respected as well as admired by many colleagues and former students.? They are also a somewhat antiquated and awkward form of scholarly communication, sometimes with what the French would call a ?bottom of the drawer? feeling.? Busy scholars eagerly agree to the idea of joining in such a project, but then have to face the deadline imposed by the editor(s).? So, contributions of varying quality and relevance to each other are frequent, perhaps typical.

These reflections occur to the reader of the present volume, in honor of Jan de Vries, perhaps the scholar who best embodies the hope that economic history can survive the divergent forces that have driven the constituent disciplines so far apart in recent decades.? If he has a rival in this effort, it is surely one of the editors, Joel Mokyr, who opens the volume with an engaging and glowing survey of de Vries? scholarship.? The other editor, Laura Cruz, follows with a summary chapter that works hard to tie the rest of the contributions to one another and to de Vries? themes.? As a relatively recent and theoretically ambitious work, The Industrious Revolution gets the most attention.

That is particularly true regarding the chapters by Anne McCants and Maxine Berg.? They detail the significance of two categories of manufactured consumer goods that gained wide acceptance in early modern Europe, at least in its progressive northwest: textiles and porcelain.? Drawing (again) on her unique trove of estate inventories — unique because they include decedents generally too poor for such a reckoning to be made — McCants shows that even modest households in Amsterdam possessed a wide variety of both domestically produced and imported fabrics.? Berg, on the other hand, is concerned with the production end in China, and its development for the European export trade.? The porcelain industry was concentrated in a single city, Jingdezhen, and its markets included Japan and the ?South Seas? as well as Europe.? While Berg has something to say about import substitution in Japan, which also became an exporter, she does not here deal with the diffusion of porcelain manufacture to Europe in the eighteenth century.

Two other contributions tackle the relevance of the Industrious Revolution model, but deal mostly with the nineteenth century, thus with a time when the Industrial Revolution was (also?) in progress.? George Grantham and Franque Grimard consider France in mid-nineteenth century, using a census that has been unjustly discounted (in their view) despite the fact that it appears to mesh well with the almost simultaneous agricultural census of 1852 (though not with later population censuses).? The 1851 census went to great lengths to determine occupations for dependents, notably wives of working men, and so promises to be useful in testing the de Vries model, which purports to show greater labor force participation by women induced by the heightened availability of consumer goods in the market.? As is so often the case with French data, clear conclusions are difficult to draw.? In the rural communes investigated, a substantial proportion of women were counted as working, often in the family farm or other enterprise, but that participation seems more a result of need than of opportunity.? On the other hand, this is a relatively late period, notably for rural proto-industrial production which was already declining in many areas in the face of factory competition.

The American case that Gavin Wright examines is also complicated, though for different reasons.? The dominant driving force in eliciting labor input (hours and effort) was apparently the drive to own land and be independent rather than the lure of new consumer goods.? Thus, American workers worked very hard and long for good wages, but operated in a culture of great mobility, geographical as well as job-switching.? Moreover, the place of women in the labor force was also distinctive, in the sense that American (married) women went from producing goods for the household to consumer-household homemaking without very much participation in the market either in a putting-out system or outside the home.? Wright also brings into the story that hardy perennial of discussion, the bias in American technological change and choices, first examined by H. J. Habakkuk over half a century ago.? It is fair to say that the discussion here, informed as it is, will not qualify as definitive in either sense identified by Mokyr (p. 1) as the first or the last word on its subject.

I will pass more quickly over the remaining contributions.? Wim Klooster looks at the role of English tobacco processors and clay pipe makers in the Netherlands, noting that, contrary to what one might think, Dutch ships often brought New World tobacco to Rotterdam for English nationals to process, though the natural order eventually reasserted itself.? Maarten Prak follows the rise and fall of the architect in Holland, tracing out an accelerator model in which public buildings (and great residences) served to employ architects rather than mere builders, but could not sustain the profession after the Golden Age once the stock was fully built.?? Peter Temin and Hans-Joachim Voth trace the fortunes of Hoare?s Bank, as long lived as the Bank of England, and attribute its longevity to financial conservatism and demographic prudence, in this case enough heirs to avoid losing control.? Laura Cruz looks at networks of booksellers in the Seven United Provinces and slightly beyond, recalling Jan de Vries? work on early modern European urbanization.? She notes that Amsterdam figures prominently in these networks, but as one node among several rather than as the highest-order central place for a hierarchical set of connections.? Finally, Drew Keeling adds to his studies of repeat migration westward across the North Atlantic in the late nineteenth century.? He finds it more prevalent than many have thought, which leads to the question of how often an individual may repeat a migration before it becomes merely travel.

In summary then, these are worthy pieces in a worthy cause.? However, unless one?s library can be induced to stock the book, not many scholars are likely to read them, since they cover quite a range of subjects and the book, though slim, costs about $140.

Paul Hohenberg was professor of economics at RPI.? He co-authored The Making of Urban Europe, 1000-1994 (Harvard, 1995) with Lynn Hollen Lees.

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Subject(s):Development of the Economic History Discipline: Historiography; Sources and Methods
Economywide Country Studies and Comparative History
Financial Markets, Financial Institutions, and Monetary History
Historical Demography, including Migration
Household, Family and Consumer History
Industry: Manufacturing and Construction
International and Domestic Trade and Relations
Labor and Employment History
Markets and Institutions
Geographic Area(s):Asia
North America
Time Period(s):Medieval
16th Century
17th Century
18th Century
19th Century