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Economic and Social History Blog

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How to measure the impact of slavery on the early modern economy?

Written by Jan Luiten van Zanden NWO, the National Science Foundation of the Netherlands, has a usually rather boring glossy in which it presents the successes of the research funded by the organization. Recently, however, it published the summary of a debate, significantly printed in black and white, about the importance of the slave trade…

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Books do not die: the price of information, Human Capital and the Black Death in the long fourteenth century

In this blog I will explain why I am busy working on trends in the prices of medieval hand-written books between circa 1250 and 1500. It may seem as escapism in these times of Corona, but because my time-window includes the Black Death – that killed approximately one third of the European population back then…

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Netherlands blocking EU emergency fund for COVID-19

The plan for today was that I would give you an update of the garden (still in deep crisis) and then tell a bit about the new kid on the block, the robin, and the question where does his/her beauty come from. But politics intervened. Last Thursday our prime minister Rutte blocked in a not…

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Made in Holland(?): Hoogovens IJmuiden/Tata Steel

Students of The Great Challenges specialisation ventured on a field trip to Tata Steel this week. The Dutch word for it, ‘schoolreisje’, makes it sound like we are back in preschool again, but this time our coach was filled with post-adolescents and even some actual adults. After some very minor delays we caught our first…

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Podcast with Wolfgang Streeck: The Return of Capitalism

The podcast can be found both on iTunes and Soundcloud. The interview has been recorded as part of the bachelor course ‘Thinking about Capitalism: From Adam Smith to Thomas Piketty’. The essay below does not repeat or summarise the content of the podcast. Rather, it puts the work of Wolfgang Streeck and the podcast in…

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From households to factories: Who makes our clothes?

An interesting concept in social science is “alienation”. We are unaware of how the products around us came into being and so we are alienated from the majority of products around us. Take our clothes, for example your t-shirt, jumper and jeans. Our clothes were historically made at home; cotton was farmed, spun and weaved on hand…

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Happy New Year!

  All the best wishes for 2018! On the 8th of December The Great Challenges specialisation package went on an excursion to the Hague. We visited the Scientific Council for Governmental Policy where Arthur van Riel told us about the work he does there as an economic historian. We then visited the National Archives and…

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Is there a future for entrepreneurship in the current market economy?

On the 3rd of October 2017 our very own Bas van Bavel gave the King Willem 1 lecture. This was for a gathering of senior figures from the corporate world, as well as the royal couple who were brought together for the announcement of the winner of the Koning Willem 1 prize, the national prize…

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Ecological Armageddon?! What can historians do to help?

By Thomas van Goethem The Guardian raised some eyebrows with headlines such as ‘Warning of ‘ecological Armageddon’ after dramatic plunge in insect numbers’ and ‘Earth’s sixth mass extinction event under way, scientists warn’. The message is clear though: species are disappearing, and it matters! Biologists around the world report species loss across the board. The…

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Dangerous misuse of historical data

UPDATE (01/12/2017): the article can now been accessed in a ‘ahead of print’ online version on the following URL https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/24/1/17-0477_article In a recent blogpost on the current outbreak of plague in Madagascar, historian Monica Green wrote the following quote: ‘I see dead people. That’s my job. I’m a historian.’ This is also true for me,…

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Filming…

Today I was in front of a green screen for the first time ever. I have only once been filmed professionally before, for the Antiques Roadshow (the BBC version) when I was ten and brought in my great-great Uncle’s Waterloo medal to the Sint-Nikolaaskerk in Amsterdam. In that clip I am largely mute, expressing surprise…

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SCOOP

Deadline for applications for the SCOOP programme. 10 PhD positions, within the context of the SCOOP programme – Sustainable Cooperation – Roadmaps to a Resilient Society are currently open to applications. Positions 3 and 5 have an explicitly historical focus; 3: Accommodating Newcomers in the Labour Market  5: Running the Family Business: Stakeholders, Values and…

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Open days

Today I presented at the information sessions for two different degree programmes, the English language History BA we offer in Utrecht, and the new Politics, Philosophy, Economics and History (PPE+H) programme. It is always a positive experience to see new, enthusiastic students looking for the degree that will suit them best. Talking to prospective students…

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Position of women 3: Venus and the disappearing goddesses

Yesterday the BBC broadcast a documentary called Venus Uncovered. In an article linked to the documentary Bettany Hughes sketches the evolution of the goddess Aphrodite/Venus over the centuries (here). This article was interesting for me, firstly as I’ve just taught a course in which two students wrote pieces on what are known as Venus figurines….

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The Dutch Knowledge and Information Society

On the 21st of March next year the Netherlands will have a referendum on something that is generally referred to as the ‘sleepwet’. This bill proposes that the Dutch intelligence and security services, the AIVD and MIVD, should be authorized to collect and store data from citizens on a massive scale, regardless of whether they…

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Who owns England?

An interesting resource and project I came across – Who owns England? and the related project website. For those interested in property rights and distribution of resources across a population worth taking a look. The visualisation is interesting as an example of how mapping can reveal interesting patterns. Another example of this can be found…

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Position of women 2: Child Marriage American style

I came across this fascinating article on child marriage in the United States today –  Married Young: The Fight over Child Marriage in America. (for the associated podcast see here). The account of Heather (15) and Aaron’s (24) marriage is an insight into a practice we often associate with far-flung corners of the world. What…

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Book tips – Biodiversity and Bees

I was recently asked to write a book suggestion for the History bachelors newsletter. I found it very hard to limit myself to one book, so here I include my original suggestions with a connection to the topics covered by economic historians, as well as some additional fodder. So when I have time I’m an…

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Seminar paper: Entrepreneurs and unicorns

Today our very own Selin Dilli presented in the seminar. Selin completed her PhD within the project “Agency, Gender, and Economic Development in the World Economy, 1800-2000” with a dissertation focused on measuring the position of women over the long term and a particular focus on women’s political participation. Her paper today was titled “The Diversity…

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Piketty and the Charter of the Forest

With the recent publication of the Paradise papers yet another glimpse has been given into the ways the financially blessed avoid paying their fair dues  back into society. It wasn’t as if we didn’t already know this. The coverage and revelations echo closely those as a result of the publication of the Panama papers last year. This…

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History of the Red Cross

A recent history of the Dutch Red Cross during WWII, for which Keetie Sluyterman of our department was on the supervisory committee, was published on the 1st of November. The conclusions were stark; the Red Cross in the Netherlands did next to nothing for Dutch Jews. To read more on the reason the book was…

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Age Heaping

Sometimes economic and social historians have to get creative when trying to answer interesting questions using historical data. One of the things we would really like to know is how skilled and/or educated people were in the past. Education, or more commonly in the economic history literature – human capital, is an important determinant of…

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Measuring Welfare Broadly

On Friday the 27th of October, our very own Bas van Bavel and Auke Rijpma presented their collaborative work with Rabobank on a broad measure of welfare, to the provincial council of Brabant. This indicator aims to go beyond standard measures of growth (often construed as GDP) to cover many different variables that effect people’s…

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Seminar paper: Planted towns

Seminar paper  Kerstin Enflo and Alexandra López-Cermeno (Lund University), presented on the 2nd of November in our Autumnal seminar series. The modern imagination can conjure a number of examples of towns and cities established where formally there were none (or very small outposts). Huge cities appearing where very little had stood before; Brasilia springs to mind, as does Canberra….

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New CGEH WP – Benchmarking the Middle Ages – 15th century Tuscany in European Perspective

A new working paper just went up on our sister site the CGEH (Centre for Global Economic History). Written by Jan Luiten van Zanden, of our own group, together with Emanuele Felice of the University of Chieti-Pescari it explores new estimates of Gross Domestic Product – GDP (so how much an economy produces) for 15th century…

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The cash book of the Netherlands

Guest post written by Dr. Corinne Boter:   Most research on the financial history of the Netherlands tells the story from above, looking at the development of formal institutions such as banks and insurance companies. That is why we know very little about how ‘normal’ people used to manage their finances. In the project Kasboekje…

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Hive-mind: Best Economic History articles for Bachelors students

Recently we did a hive mind exercise with the group of scholars who work in the Economic and Social history group at Utrecht University. I had been asked to look at a research methods course manual for second year undergraduate students, and provide a recommendation for an article that was quantitative in nature, reflected recent…

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Book of Hywel Dda

The original inhabitants of the British Isles were, by successive waves of invasion by Anglo-Saxons and Vikings, pushed slowly into what became the Welsh kingdom. Here they codified their laws and customs, many of which ran counter to those developing in England at the time. We can see this in the book of Hywel Dda…

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Agency book

Jan Luiten van Zanden, Auke Rijpma and Jan Kok (eds.) recently released the book Agency, Gender and Economic Development in the World Economy 1850-2000, Routledge. This book is the culmination of the research project of the same name conducted at Utrecht University and Radboud University Nijmegen. Working with Selin Dilli, Lotte van der Vleuten and…

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Position of women 1: Child brides

For some marriage is seen as the ultimate rite of passage for young women, an indication of reaching adulthood. In America, and countries heavily influenced by Anglo-American culture, the ubiquitous white dress, diamond rings and expensive ceremonies have become almost mandatory. Over 36 million people watched the coverage of the royal wedding depicted above. However…

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History of (un)happiness

By Jan Luiten van Zanden Someone who commits suicide is extremely unhappy. The happiness industry has also made abundantly clear that people are unhappy The number of victims of violent crime has plummeted. Have we become madder since Freud?   How did people feel in the past? Suicide, prisons and psychiatric patients. A history of…

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Best books for teaching quantitative methods to historians?

I have been looking into books for teaching quantitative historical methods to undergraduate students. In general the experience with exposing history students to numerical content is mixed. I therefore need a book that doesn’t presume that students would want to take a quantitative approach and which somehow makes numbers come alive in the way that…

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December 2016 – First integrated Dutch well-being indicator launched

One from the archives: Economic growth not translating into well-being of Dutch households   The prosperity and well-being of Dutch households has hardly risen in recent years, despite the economic growth in the same period. This is revealed by Rabobank and Utrecht University’s Comprehensive Indicator of Well-being, which was presented today. This indicator is an…

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Mills, Cranes and the Great Divergence

  Watermills, windmills, building cranes and harbour cranes were the high-tech inventions of the Middle Ages: expensive, but labour-saving machines that could raise labour productivity significantly. In an article in Economic History Review Bas van Bavel, Eltjo Buringh and Jessica Dijkman compare the prevalence of mills and cranes in medieval western Europe and the Middle…

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Start of a new year

The start of the new academic year is drawing ever closer and slowly Utrecht is filling up with students and university employees again. The absence of many Utrechters is most noticeable in the summer months when the bike jams at various bottlenecks shrink dramatically in size but now the exchange students are very much in evidence,…

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Trump and the end of globalisation

After the upheaval of the American presidential election Jan Luiten van Zanden provides his interpretation of events. Towards the end of the 19th century globalisation led to increasing tensions between countries which culminated in a backlash against international collaboration. If we are not careful history may well repeat itself. The current losers of the economic system…

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