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Money, Trade, and Power: The Evolution of Colonial South Carolina’s Plantation Society

Author(s):Greene, Jack P.
Brana-Shute, Rosemary
Sparks, Randy J.
Reviewer(s):Ryden, David

Published by EH.NET (April 2003)


Jack P. Greene, Rosemary Brana-Shute, and Randy J. Sparks, editors, Money, Trade, and Power: The Evolution of Colonial South Carolina’s Plantation Society. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2001. xiii + 399 pp. $49.95 (cloth), ISBN: 1-57003-374-9.

Reviewed for EH.NET by David Ryden, Department of Social Sciences, University of Houston, Downtown Campus.

This book is a collection of fifteen essays, most of which were presented to the College of Charleston’s Program in the Carolina Lowcountry and the Atlantic World. Thus, the bulk of the volume stresses the economic and cultural connections between this important British North American colony and other parts of the Atlantic basin. Most of the contributors are younger scholars; some taking a fresh look at very old questions and others carving-out new research paths. Economic historians interested in colonial America will find many of the individual interpretations informative and will appreciate that much of this new work is quantitatively based. There are four chapters that can be classed as economic histories, four that can be viewed as demographic studies, and seven that can be broadly described as social histories of the region.

Stephen Hardy’s “Colonial South Carolina’s Rice Industry and the Atlantic Economy” tests the hypothesis that improvements in eighteenth-century shipping accounted for the economic growth of the colonies. Comparing the aggregate value of rice exports to measures of shipping efficiency, Hardy points out that these indices were not always positively correlated; this finding was particularly true during the rapid economic growth in the decade preceding the Revolution. Thus, he concurs with historians who emphasize the importance of internal productivity gains (such as Coclanis, Menard, and Nash), while also stressing the importance of increasing European and Caribbean demand for the grain. In addition to providing this analysis, Hardy offers an extensive appendix containing important economic data assembled in thirteen tables.

R.C. Nash’s “The Organization of Trade and Finance in the Atlantic Economy” is a detailed study of how merchants and planters directed the colony’s output to overseas markets. He maintains that business decisions were based on market conditions and he dismisses any cultural causes. For example, he tells us that rice planters chose to avoid the commission system, opting instead to sell their crops in Charleston markets, because of the homogeneity of the product, the high shipping cost relative to the value, and the wide geographic dispersion of markets to which the crop was shipped. Similarly, he ascribes the merchant decision to turn to planting in the eighteenth century to be evidence of keen business acumen and not evidence of a retreat from the market economy.

Eirlys Barker’s “Indian Traders, Charles Town, and London’s Vital Links to the Interior of North America, 1717-1755” takes an institutional view of the economic behavior of the colony’s backcountry. She outlines how the smallest peddlers and the most well-connected “master traders” conducted business with Yamasees, Cherokees, Creeks, Chickasaws, and Catawbas, exchanging manufactured goods for “deerskin and other forest products.” For a time, the largest Indian traders colluded with one another and built favorable links with the colonial government. By the second half of the eighteenth century, both the capital and political interest in the Indian trade waned, as Native Americans were regarded as a ‘barrier’ to the expansion of the plantation sector of the economy.

Gary Hewitt’s “The State in the Planter’s Service” dovetails nicely with Barker’s article by arguing that the success of the rice industry was dependent upon government policy. Far from being “a natural and inevitable process,” the domination of the rice sector grew out of the elevation of “the interest of planters into a ‘public’ interest.” The local assembly manipulated the currency, guarded against metropolitan interference, and sided decidedly with planters in their struggles with merchant creditors.

Two of the four demographic studies deal with aspects of the early settlement of the white population while the other two focus on the bondsmen who bore the brunt of the lowcountry’s economic growth. Bertrand Van Ruymbeke’s “The Huguenots of Proprietary South Carolina” pieces together from fragmentary sources the demography of these French refugees who came to the colony between 1680 and 1710. He estimates that the total number of migrants was about 650 and that most came from the urban areas in the western provinces of France. Meaghan Duff takes a similar focus in her “Creating a Plantation Province,” but limits her analysis to land warrants and land grants during the early settlement. This quantitative study sheds some light upon settlement patterns, but she explains clearly that the variation in the numbers of grants and warrants often times has more to do with bureaucratic efficiency than migration.

Jennifer Lyle Morgan’s “‘This is ‘Mines'” and William Ramsey’s “‘All & Singular Slaves'” explore some demographic aspects of the slave population. Ramsey turns to a sample of wills and probate inventories that offer demographic data on the Indian slave population, tracing their declining importance in the early decades of the eighteenth century. Morgan’s piece, on the other hand, is an analysis of the sex ratio of black slaves in both Barbados and South Carolina. In doing so, she places a great deal of weight on the cultural influence of the early Barbadian settlers to South Carolina. Her primary focus is on the attitudes planters had toward their female slaves, arguing that “Slave owners in both Barbados and South Carolina worked to capture women’s reproductive capacity, link it to the growth and development of their individual estates, and thus bolster their entire colonial venture.”

Several of the social history chapters in this book explore the issue of white efforts to control the slave population. For example, Max Edelson’s “Affiliation without Affinity” is an analysis of the relationship between skilled slaves and their owners during the eighteenth century. Edelson argues that planters gained more power in South Carolina’s society as their slaves increasingly entered skilled professions, displacing white workers. Ironically, planters were simultaneously forced to make concessions to those very same skilled slaves, offering them more autonomy. Two additional studies that address the management of South Carolina’s slaves include Robert Olwell’s “‘Practical Justice'” and Mathew Mulcahy’s “‘Melancholy and Fatal Calamites.'” While Olwell outlines how the slave court operated and serviced the planter class, Mulcahy’s focus is on the white response to the threat of slave uprisings after the Charleston fire of 1740 and the hurricane of 1752.

G. Winston Lane’s “Economic Power among Eighteenth-Century Women of the Carolina Lowcountry” and Elizabeth Pruden’s “Investing Widows” explore the relatively unknown world of female economic activity in South Carolina. The two take separate, but complementary approaches to the topic. Lane’s study analyzes the family history of four generations of Middleton women. Based on these life histories, he finds that the married women in later generations were less likely to be active economic agents as compared to the first-generation of Middleton brides, while Middleton widows “enjoyed economic power, though to varying degrees.” Pruden’s statistical study of 532 women comes to a similar conclusion: based on her analysis of wills and probate inventories, Pruden reconstructs the investment behavior of both poor and rich widows, noting how these strategies changed over time. Although it is unclear if widow investment had a significant affect on the local economy, it is clear that many women were dependent upon on the developing bond and mortgage market in eighteenth-century South Carolina.

The two remaining essays also focus on white society, but are perhaps of less interest to economists than the other thirteen. Thomas Little’s “‘Adding to the Church Such As Shall Be Saved’: The Growth in Influence of Evangelicalism in Colonial South Carolina, 1740-1775” discusses the effect the Great Awakening had on the region’s religious orientation, while Edward Pearson’s “‘Planters Full of Money’: The Self-Fashioning of the Eighteenth-Century South Carolina Elite” explains how planters constructed their genteel world as a means of solidifying their grip on society.

This collection of essays has been thoughtfully assembled and will be an important resource for many years. The contributors have collectively shown that the research area of South Carolina colonial studies is thriving and that we can look forward to a number of important monographs. My criticism of the book is limited to the fact that some of the tables and charts could have benefited from closer scrutiny and better formatting. Other than this small point, I have nothing but praise for the editors. It is hoped that similar collections of essays from the College of Charleston will appear soon.

David Ryden’s Ph.D. dissertation from the University of Minnesota’s Department of History, “Producing a Peculiar Commodity: Jamaican Sugar Production, Slave Life and Planter Profits on the Eve of Abolition, 1750-1807,” was a finalist for the Economic History Association’s Alexander Gerschenkron Prize. Recent publications include, “Does Decline Make Sense? The West Indian Economy and the Abolition of the British Slave Trade,” Journal of Interdisciplinary History (2001).

Subject(s):Servitude and Slavery
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):18th Century

Reflections on the Great Depression

Author(s):Parker, Randall E.
Reviewer(s):Smiley, Gene

Published by EH.Net (April 2003)

Parker, Randall E., Reflections on the Great Depression. Northampton,

MA: Edward Elgar, 2002, xii + 230p., ISBN: 1-84064-745-0.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Gene Smiley, Marquette University.

The Great Depression of the 1930s was the most dramatic episode of the

twentieth century. Many, though not all, would describe it as the “defining

moment” of the century. It changed the conception of and the role of government

in economies and it gave rise to modern macroeconomics. Many would argue that

nothing was quite the same after the 1930s. But each passing year takes us

further away from the “depression decade” and leaves fewer and fewer people who

lived through the traumatic period. Furthermore, the economists who matured in

and were shaped by those turbulent times are now the elder statesmen of the

profession and are increasingly passing on.

In 1997 and 1998 Randall E. Parker, an economist at East Carolina University

who has written extensively on the Great Depression, conducted interviews with

eleven legendary economists to obtain their reflections on this critical

period. All of those economists were in graduate school or received their

doctoral degrees during the 1930s. By the time the project was underway several

of the prominent economists Parker had hoped to interview had passed away.

These were Lester Chandler, Martin Bronfenbrenner, and Gottfried Haberler.

Several economists that he did interview — Moses Abramovitz, Albert Hart,

Wassily Leontif, and Herbert Stein — have passed on since his interviews. The

other economists interviewed were Paul Samuelson, Milton Friedman, Charles

Kindleberger, Anna Schwartz, James Tobin, Morris Adelman, and Victor Zarnowitz.

Some of these noteworthy economists have written extensively on the Great

Depression while others have specialized on quite different economic issues.

There are no major surprises revealed in the interviews, though the reader does

get some insight into the personal histories of these economists. In his

foreword, Ben Bernanke suggests that one of the achievements of the book is

“first-rate highbrow gossip” which seems to be an apt description.

Noting the lack of consensus on the causes, depth, and length of the Great

Depression Parker chose to begin the volume with a chapter overviewing the

decade. After briefly surveying the sequence of events, he examines some

contemporary and modern explanations such as “The Monetary Hypothesis,” “The

Nonmonetary/Financial Hypothesis,” and “The Gold Standard Hypothesis.” He

concludes this chapter with a brief discussion of the recovery and the New Deal

and the emergence of Keynes and his hypotheses.

The interviews provide no startling revelations or profound insights. Neither

do they suggest that economists as different as Paul Samuelson and Milton

Friedman have altered their long-held views on how one can explain the Great

Depression. These eleven economists were not equally affected by the Great

Depression and it did not always play a crucial role in their careers and

decisions. For Samuelson the Great Depression helped lead him into economics,

and Keynes’ General Theory had a great effect on his career once he accepted

its ideas. Milton Friedman chose economics because in the middle of a major

depression it was a much more “urgent” field of study than mathematics.

Interestingly, as a leading proponent of free markets and minimal government,

Friedman notes that the New Deal was a “God-send” for economists because the

government employed so many of them. Friedman also notes that if he were to

rewrite “The Great Contraction” chapter from A Monetary History he would

place considerably more emphasis on France’s role in bringing on the

international depression. Anna Schwartz commented that she now would place less

confidence in deposit insurance than she and Friedman did when writing the

chapter on “The Great Contraction.”

Harvard doctoral students were among the first to preview Keynes’ The

General Theory and there was a fairly rapid conversion to his views among

the students. Moses Abramovitz reports that as graduate students and

instructors read the galley proofs of the American version of The General

Theory, they made life miserable for Harvard’s professors and it was they

who converted Alvin Hansen from a critic of Keynes to a leading Keynesian

economist in the United States. There are many other interesting stories in the

book, such as Albert Hart’s experiences in Austria and Europe at the time of

the Kreditanstalt collapse and Britain’s exit from the gold standard.

Inevitably in a set of interviews such as these, the quality, length, and

topics discussed will vary considerably between interviews. To control for this

Parker asked similar questions of most of the economists interviewed. These

questions included: What ended the Great Depression? Does the memory of the

Great Depression stay with you today? Could it happen again? What was the

role of the Great Depression in shaping your thinking and career? What are the

lessons of the Great Depression? Are there parallels between the depression of

1920-1921 and 1929-1933? Other questions such as, should the Fed be an arbiter

of security prices, do the trends in the distribution of income bother you, did

the depression change the psychology of the country, and did Keynes have

“saving capitalism” as an objective in writing The General Theory, were

asked of several of the interviewees.

Though the answers to these questions varied there were some common responses.

Most concluded that World War II brought us out of the depression decade.

However, Friedman suggested that it was the Fed’s printing of money to finance

government armament expenditures that did so — not simply the government

spending. Anna Schwartz mentioned the growth of the money supply up to the

depression of 1937-1938 and never mentioned World War II. None of the

economists interviewed thought that a repeat of the Great Depression was much

of a possibility, though most did not rule out the possibility completely.

James Tobin thought that a repeat was unlikely but noted that recent events in

Japan had shaken his confidence in such a conclusion.

This is an interesting and well-written book. It provides additional insights

into the thinking and personalities of some of the leading economists who came

out of the most depressed decade in modern times. It provides additional

reading for study in both economic history and the history of economic

analysis, and I heartily recommend it.

Gene Smiley is a professor of economics at Marquette University. His most

recent book is Rethinking the Great Depression: A New View of Its Causes and

Consequences (2002).

Subject(s):Macroeconomics and Fluctuations
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII

The Struggle for Control of the Modern Corporation: Organizational Change at General Motors, 1924-1970

Author(s):Freeland, Robert F.
Reviewer(s):Robertson, Paul

Published by EH.NET (March 2003)

Robert F. Freeland, The Struggle for Control of the Modern Corporation:

Organizational Change at General Motors, 1924-1970. Cambridge: Cambridge

University Press, 2001. xviii + 364 pp. $59.95 (cloth), ISBN: 0-521-63034-7.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Paul Robertson, Department of Management, University of


In this important new book, Robert F. Freeland provides a new perspective on

the management structure of a firm that is, perhaps, already the most

thoroughly studied American corporation. The book is divided into two

closely-related sections. The majority is devoted to a detailed discussion of

the changing organizational structure of the General Motors Corporation over a

period of nearly half a century, but the theoretical sections at the beginning

and end more than justify the book’s place as Volume 17 in a series devoted to

“Structural Analysis in the Social Sciences.” Although the middle portion is

used to provide evidence to support the arguments on the flanks, the two parts

can best be discussed independently.

To begin with the empirical chapters: On the basis of a wealth of primary

material, Freeland surveys changes in the management structure of General

Motors from the days of William Crapo Durant to the chairmanship of Frederic

Donner in the 1960s. The person central to the argument, however, is Alfred P.

Sloan, Jr. Sloan was not only president or chairman of the firm for much of the

period, but has left a wealth of documentation concerning his actions and

motives. Freeland’s argument is that Sloan, despite any impression given by his

memoirs (My Years with General Motors, 1964), did not try to create a

strictly hierarchical firm in which divisional managers were rigidly separated

from owners and in which financial and strategic decisions made by the owners

were passed on by fiat to operating executives to be carried out on a

lump-it-or-leave-it basis. Instead, although the forms of organization employed

by Sloan varied in their degrees of centralization, Sloan knew that he

generally needed to obtain the “consent” of divisional managers in order to get

their full cooperation. To achieve this, he engaged in what he called

“selling,” which covered a variety of activities ranging from closely-argued

written justifications of policies to consultation to active participation of

divisional managers in decision making. Moreover, Sloan frequently supported

the role of the divisions in undermining the authority of the owners, in this

case the du Pont family and their representatives. As a result, at least at the

top, General Motors relied far more on consensus than on a command-and-control

structure. This part of the book provides an excellent discussion of the

historical development of the firm based on a solid command of detailed


By contrast, the theoretical discussion, which is probably closer to Freeland’s

heart, is less satisfactory. As economic and business historians know,

Freeland’s topic has been dealt with before, not only by Sloan but also by

Alfred D. Chandler, Jr. in Strategy and Structure: Chapters in the History

of the American Industrial Enterprise (1962). Chandler, who covers much of

the same ground as Freeland for the earlier period, uses GM (along with Du

Pont, Esso, and Sears-Roebuck) to demonstrate how decentralized,

multi-divisional structures were devised by owners and managers to cope with

the growing complexity of giant corporations in the early decades of the

twentieth century. Freeland, however, does not engage directly with Chandler’s

ideas. Instead, he conflates Chandler’s discussion with the later ideas of

Oliver E. Williamson, in the process turning Chandler into a mouthpiece for

Williamson’s transaction cost based concept of the “M-form” corporation. Not

surprisingly, Professor Chandler fails as an advocate for an idea that was not

conceived until some years after he wrote his book.

Freeland’s book is disturbing because it creates a straw person (or more

accurately a small straw army) to knock over rather than concentrating on his

positive contribution — that consent is often needed to achieve efficiency in

complex organizations. In one sense, this is understandable since Freeland’s

point, while valid, is not nearly as exciting as killing giants. Regardless of

what Williamson may contend, one wonders if Sloan and Chandler would really

have contested the point that consent may improve efficiency in many cases.

Freeland’s theoretical discussion also suffers from selectivity. The immediate

heirs of Chandler’s insights were not transaction cost economists, but

sociologists and organizational theory specialists such as James D. Thompson

(Organizations in Action, 1967) and Jay R. Galbraith. Their ideas, which

are closer to Freeland’s own, are barely covered. Similarly, there is no

acknowledgement that, sixty years ago, Herbert Simon (whom Freeland ominously

terms an “economist,” a designation that Simon might have disputed) pointed out

that experts have independent authority based on unique knowledge and may need

to be consulted rather than commanded. Finally, Freeland explicitly uses “the

terms ‘bounded rationality’ and ‘imperfect information’ interchangeably” (p.

10, fn. 29). In doing so, he jettisons one of the two props of bounded

rationality, namely the inability of individuals to process large amounts of

information efficiently. In this way, Freeland glosses over a major connection

between the work of Chandler, Thompson, Galbraith and Simon, and also over one

of the major connections between “consent” and the multi-divisional structure

in their work.

In short, while Freeland provides a wealth of good historical information,

readers should be careful in picking their way through his theoretical


Paul Robertson is author (with Richard N. Langlois) of Firms, Markets, and

Economic Change: A Dynamic Theory of Business Institutions, Routledge,

1995. He is editor of several books including Authority and Control in

Modern Industry: Theoretical and Empirical Perspectives, Routledge, 1999

and (with Richard N. Langlois and Tony F. Yu) Alternative Theories of the

Firm, Edward Elgar, 2003.

Subject(s):Business History
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

The Economics of QWERTY: History, Theory, and Policy — Essays by Stan J. Liebowitz and Stephen E. Margolis

Author(s):Lewin, Peter
Reviewer(s):Sullivan, Richard J.

Published by EH.NET (March 2003)


Peter Lewin, editor, The Economics of QWERTY: History, Theory, and Policy — Essays by Stan J. Liebowitz and Stephen E. Margolis. New York: New York University Press, 2002. xi + 266 pp. $50.00 (cloth), ISBN: 0-8147-5178-4.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Richard J. Sullivan, Banking Studies and Structure, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.

A number of historical and theoretical studies published in the 1980s suggested that if network effects and economies of scale are significant, with information goods offered as an example, then free markets could lead to inferior technologies becoming entrenched. In the face of this possible market failure, some studies have suggested that government policy may improve social welfare. This book reprints research and essays published by Stan Liebowitz and Stephen Margolis over the course of the 1990s that challenges both the historical and theoretical grounds for these assertions.

Liebowitz and Margolis are masters of neoclassical theory. The book mixes theoretical and historical analysis, effectively confronting one with the other, and exposing both of their weaknesses and strengths. Much of their effort is aimed at Paul David’s work on path dependence. While Liebowitz and Margolis succeed in clarifying a number of issues regarding network economics, they never directly address David’s conception of path dependence. Despite this limitation, their work does pose many interesting questions regarding the role of history in economic analysis.

Economic historians will be most interested in Chapters 2 and 5. In Chapter 2, Liebowitz and Margolis attack Paul David’s claim that the QWERTY typewriter layout is an example of lock-in to technological inferiority (see, for example, David (1985)). David asserts that the Dvorak keyboard layout, developed after the QWERTY layout was well established, is technically superior but historical circumstances and market processes have prevented its adoption. Typists do not train on Dvorak because no employer uses it, and no employer uses it because there are no trained typists. The social benefit of switching standards may be greater than the social cost, but unless all users switch, the social benefit is unattainable. It is too costly to coordinate all users to make the switch, the result of an externality that causes market failure.

Liebowitz and Margolis question this reasoning. Theoretically, they argue that this is an externality of the type analyzed by Coase (1960). As such, interested parties can overcome the coordination failure. For example, an entrepreneur could patent a superior standard and market it in ways that overcome the lock-in of the inferior standard. Liebowitz and Margolis also attack David based on the historical record. David relies on tests conducted by the U.S. Navy that compared the QWERTY and Dvorak keyboard layout. Liebowitz and Margolis point to several flaws in the test methodology and note that Dvorak was involved in the tests, suggesting bias. Later, more sound testing showed limited or no advantage to the Dvorak keyboard. Liebowitz and Margolis also point to many events in the late 1800s that featured competition between various keyboard layouts. The prospective rewards for developing a superior keyboard were sufficiently high to make manufacturers actively seek the best layout.

In Chapter 5 Liebowitz and Margolis more directly criticize the concept of path dependence. According to them the ” ‘new’ positive feedback economics” argues that a “minor or fleeting advantage or . . . lead for some technology, product, or standard can have important and irreversible influences on the ultimate market allocation of resources, even in a world characterized by voluntary decisions and individually maximizing behavior.” Lock-in of inferior technology implies “marginal adjustments of individual agents may not offer the assurance of optimization or the revision of sub-optimal outcomes. In turn, this implies markets fail” (p. 96).

Liebowitz and Margolis identify access to information as a key element of whether path dependence is accurate and market failure important. They define three forms of path dependence distinguished by usable information about the future. First degree path dependence is where an optimal decision is made based on perfect foresight. Second degree path dependence is where a sub-optimal decision is made, but the mistake is due to imperfect foresight. The sub-optimal allocation of resources persists simply because switching costs are high.

Third-degree path dependence occurs when a sub-optimal decision is made despite having information that a superior choice is available. Some conditions, such as lack of a market, agents who are underrepresented, or coordination problems must be present for third-degree path dependence to occur. Coordination problems, for example, might cause us to be using the VHS video standard when the beta standard is superior because at the time when a choice had to be made it was too costly to know the preferences of all VCR consumers.

Only third-degree path dependence implies market failure because it is ex ante inefficient. However, Liebowitz and Margolis assert that there are no credible examples of third-degree path dependence. They argue that markets offer a number of responses to overcome lock-in (brand names, patents, or early market share commitments) and rearrange incentives so that someone captures the rents from the new technology and uses it to entice early adopters. With enough adoption, superiority of the new technology should become evident.

Chapters 3, 4 and 6 use more formal modeling to analyze network externalities. In Chapter 3 Liebowitz and Margolis distinguish between network effects and network externalities. Network effects occur when the number of consumers of a good influences the utility that an individual derives from a good. Network externalities occur when markets characterized by network effects fail to allocate resources properly. Liebowitz and Margolis argue that network effects may be common but network externalities are rare.

Chapter 4 establishes that network effects are not the cause of network externalities. Network effects are instead caused by peculiarities of production costs: if marginal costs are sufficiently low then there will be too little production of network services. Liebowitz and Margolis note that this implies that network externalities are not new. They involve conventional problems like natural monopoly and production externalities.

Chapter 6 presents a model of the choice of standards and draws conclusions regarding antitrust policy. The model has production technology (a supply curve for a product) and incorporates network effects into the demand for the product. By applying the same setup to two different standards, we can use the model to analyze the choice of standards. Depending on the relative slopes of demand and supply, outcomes can either be that one standard dominates or that both standards coexist. Importantly, it is not the presence of network effects that leads to this outcome. The element that determines whether one or both standards survive is the slope of the supply curve, that is, the underlying production technologies.

Liebowitz and Margolis go on to review three cases of standards competition (typewriter keyboards, VCR standards, and Mac versus IBM). In each case they argue that the superior technology won the competition. The implication is that antitrust should not address standards choice — the market can work to find the best technology. Antitrust could handicap an otherwise vibrant industry.

Chapters 7 and 8 are essays that define path dependence and network externalities, useful to those looking for a brief introduction to Liebowitz and Margolis’s approach to the subject. Much of the material is contained in other chapters, although the authors do place emphasis on remediability: third degree path dependence implies the existence of remediable inefficiencies.

Chapters 9 and 10 turn to more contemporary issues by analyzing Microsoft’s business practices. Chapter 9 looks in detail at Microsoft’s ability to leverage software sales off its dominance in operating systems, its strategy of bundling software products together, its effect on innovation, and its insistence on controlling icons placed on personal computers. Liebowitz and Margolis argue that in each case that Microsoft would not be likely to gain much competitive advantage. Chapter 10 looks at the record of sales for spreadsheets, personal finance software, and browsers. After a review of price, quality, market shares, and competition for software compatible on Apple computers, Liebowitz and Margolis find no reason to think that Microsoft took advantage of a dominance in operating systems to gain in other software markets.

The editor, Peter Lewin, contributes the first and last chapters. The first chapter is a useful overview, but the most original element of the chapter is a review of economic policy. Because of rapid changes in their market, products like information goods do not lend themselves well to concepts of static efficiency. They instead require a dynamic context at the level of economic institutions; for example, where we judge whether the process of competition is adequate rather than whether a particular price-quantity combination is momentarily efficient.

The final chapter summarizes the state of the debate in the economics of QWERTY. Lewin feels that the David/Liebowitz and Margolis debate is about policy. Lewin characterizes David’s historical examples as corresponding to second-degree path dependence, and his policy prescriptions involve using government intervention to slow markets from committing to a technology before information is available for the appropriate decision. The issue is what kind of policy action is best at different points of a market process.

But appropriate policy requires that government know when future knowledge will arrive. Or if economic agents have the information, they cannot coordinate in a way to exploit superior alternatives. Lewin feels that this “knowledge problem” is the crux of Liebowitz and Margolis’s arguments. They are skeptical that government would have superior information, and they believe that market processes can overcome coordination issues or other barriers that might prevent adoption of superior alternatives.

Where does Liebowitz and Margolis’s analysis leave the concept of path dependence for economic historians? With individual decision making in a free market framework, the neoclassical focus on institutional context, resource endowments, underlying technologies, and optimizing behavior, provides a powerful tool for understanding resource allocation. Yet for historical analysis, neoclassical theory falls short because it usually takes institutions, endowments, and technologies as given, which is unsuitable as the time frame for analysis expands.

An appealing feature of the concept of path dependence is that random events have been important to institutions and technology. Heroic individuals have played an important role in the design of governing institutions. Random discovery has contributed significantly to our basic knowledge. In other works, we live in a world where information reveals itself in an uncertain way. Optimizing behavior may help in directing society towards the best use of new information, but it does so imperfectly. The very existence of uncertainty affects behavior.

For example, path dependence has been useful to applied finance in understanding a puzzling tendency for managers to reject investment projects that have the highest perceived payoff. Instead, they often choose a project with a lower payoff, but one that allows for future flexibility. Real option theory helps to explain this decision. These managers preserve a real option rather than committing based solely on maximized present value. They know they have incomplete information at any point in time and desire flexibility because they know that new information will be forthcoming. For example, a firm might invest in a new production plant but choose to make it smaller than might be warranted based on projections of demand. But because the projections are uncertain, there is value in the option to build additional capacity in the future, and building a small plant preserves the option. Rather than committing investment over a long period of time, these managers make a sequence of decisions based on the information at hand but expecting future information to assist in making further decisions.

This example highlights the most important failing in Liebowitz and Margolis’s critique of Paul David’s work. Their critique never really addresses the central theoretical features of David’s conception of path dependence. David argues for the legitimacy of stochastic economic models with multiple equilibria (potential outcomes). Liebowitz and Margolis forcefully and effectively argue that economic processes can move an economy out of clearly undesirable situations. But underlying their analysis is a model with a single, global “best” outcome. The issue then becomes whether we have attained the best outcome, and if not, how can we get there.

David favors stochastic models because they allow for contingent processes, where outcomes are contingent upon certain historical factors. Economic change is like a branching process. At a point in time, we have several alternative choices to make. Once choices are made, we face a new set of alternatives (branches in a decision tree). Such a contingent process may or may not be inefficient and there is nothing that guarantees a particular outcome.

Under some conditions, path dependent processes can lead to outcomes that are inefficient. Feedback mechanisms, where conditions established in the past inform today’s decisions, occur for several reasons. Businesses invest in durable equipment and commit to particular technology. Consumers develop habits. Products are sometimes more useful if others use it, so that a consumer will most desire the ones that others have already purchased. These show up in self-fulfilling expectations (“I’ll get this because everyone else is”). As a result, the process systematically leads to an inferior outcome.

Some of the same forces that lead to market failure (positive economies of scale, network effects) also lead to path dependent processes. Thus while path dependence does not necessarily lead to inefficient outcomes, it can. David objects to Liebowitz and Margolis’s approach because outcome (efficient or not), rather than process, attains special significance. Moreover, their second-degree path dependence can occur because of mistakes (though informed mistakes). Yet the ahistorical approach they favor means that the nature of the mistake is never in question.

Liebowitz and Margolis do not dispute that economic theory can predict inefficient outcomes and correctly note that an important issue is whether these predictions are empirically relevant. The major problem with their empirical studies is that correctly specifying the appropriate counterfactual situation is very difficult. To properly measure how well off would we be if we had committed to another technology requires identification of advances that would take place in a technology that was never seriously pursued. In addition it must account for expenses incurred to mitigate problems that arise from the technology that was chosen. As a result, Liebowitz and Margolis’s efforts at debunking the QWERTY keyboard and other examples of third-degree path dependence have not been totally convincing.

Much of the debate surrounding path dependence has centered on efficiency. There has also been much discussion of the related issue of what to do about it. Before turning to economic policy, we need to consider the topic of allocation, which has been relatively neglected.

Neoclassical theory can show that trade can make people better off, but under general conditions many potential outcomes of a trading process could occur. Each outcome may be better than where everyone started, but exactly what outcome obtains is more difficult to predict. The question is the process of trading. Reasonable models that are path dependent might describe the process. The outcome may be efficient, but how we got there is an interesting question that path dependence can usefully describe.

This is an example of an allocation process, about which Liebowitz and Margolis have said little, but that David argues is an important subject of study. Self-reinforcing processes can lead to sustained advantages of opportunity and outcomes for some social groups. Understanding such a process may be useful if improving the welfare of a particular group is a social goal. Moreover, the process may lead to an efficient outcome, but there is no reason to necessarily think that we may approve of the particular allocation that obtains. Understanding the path dependent process may help to design ways to avoid undesirable allocations.

Many economists will be uncomfortable with David’s normative discussion of allocative outcomes because of the difficulty of making utility comparisons among individuals. David, in turn, objects to this impulse because static welfare analysis implicitly favors the status quo. Suppose the status quo is a result of a path dependent process that leads to some outcome that is in some sense objectionable. What justifies special consideration to those who could be harmed by a remedy? Welfare questions become much more complex if dynamic processes are path dependent even if there is little evidence of inefficiency.

Issues surrounding efficiency as well as allocation raise the question of economic policy. Can the government do something to improve outcomes where path dependence is an important element of the process?

Liebowitz and Margolis attack those who use lock-in as justifying a remedy where government chooses technological winners and losers. Liebowitz and Margolis have reason to be skeptical. Markets have self-correcting mechanisms and incentives can lead participants to adopt efficient procedures and develop superior substitute products. Poorly designed policies can delay corrective steps and create monopoly. The banking industry, for example, has a long history of government policies that may have impeded progress towards efficiency, such as interest rate ceilings, entry restrictions and product limitations. New technology or information goods may have some special qualities that lead to market failure. But if the market chooses poorly, why does it follow that the government can do better?

David has not recommended an economic policy that would pick a particular technology. Instead he favors government action that aids the market in making an appropriate choice. Examples I would point to include government-sponsored trials for the effectiveness of drugs or government funded basic research. Expanding these programs may make up for difficulties that the market has in identifying the best technology. But the potential pitfalls of poor government policy place the onus upon advocates of path dependence to bear a heavy burden of proof in proposing economic policy.

To make path dependence useful to economic analysis, and to help identify good policy options, some methodology must be specified to show how its outcome differs substantially from that of the neoclassical framework. David’s writings allow a description of path dependence and its appealing features. But the concept remains too sketchy to allow independent application. The real option example offered above attempts to operationalize the concept of path dependence in a manner that bridges the gap between David’s and Liebowitz and Margolis’s points of view. David may dismiss it, perhaps because it too closely resembles neoclassical optimization. But it is up to the defenders of path dependence to provide more detailed specification of the concept and an accessible methodology before further progress on its value can be made.

David’s emphasis on path dependence is part of a larger effort to develop a theory of economic change, with history as a central element. Economic historians therefore have a significant stake in the outcome. While Liebowitz and Margolis do not directly address David’s efforts, they do make important contributions regarding both the theoretical and empirical issues surrounding path dependence and network economics. This book brings their major writings on the topics conveniently together. It is useful to both economic historians as well as others interested in the “new” economy.


Ronald H. Coase, “The Problem of Social Cost,” Journal of Law and Economics, 1960, vol. 17, pp. 357-376.

Paul A. David, “Clio and the Economics of QWERTY,” American Economic Review, 1985, vol. 75, pp. 332-337.

Paul A. David, “Path Dependence and the Quest for Historical Economics: One More Chorus of the Ballad of QWERTY,” University of Oxford, Discussion Papers in Economic and Social History, Number 20, Nov.1997, (

Paul A. David, “At Last, a Remedy for Chronic QWERTY-skepticism!” Paper prepared for presentation at the European Summer School in Industrial Dynamics (ESSID), held at Institute d’Etudes Scientifique de Carg?se (Corse), France 5th – 12th September 1999, (

Richard J. Sullivan has published several articles on the history of patenting and technology. His latest work is entitled “A Guide to the ATM and Debit Card Industry,” which includes a brief history of the industry. It is available at

Subject(s):History of Technology, including Technological Change
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

Economics and Politics in the Weimar Republic

Author(s):Balderston, Theo
Reviewer(s):Spoerer, Mark

Published by EH.NET (March 2003)

Theo Balderston, Economics and Politics in the Weimar Republic.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. vii + 123 pp. $13 (paperback),

ISBN: 0-521-77760-7; $35 (hardcover), ISBN: 0-521-58375-6.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Mark Spoerer, Department of Economic and Social

Sciences, University of Hohenheim (Stuttgart, Germany).

The economic and political fate of the Weimar Republic (1918-1933) has always

been seen as the prehistory of Hitler’s rise to power, and still is seen this

way. No other period of German economic history has inspired so much attention

from both historians and economists. The two most outstanding issues that have

sparked debates among them are the questions of whether and, if so, why the

Weimar Republic suffered from structural problems already in her supposedly

‘Golden Years’ (1924-29), and whether Chancellor Heinrich Br?ning had a

feasible alternative to his pro-cyclical austerity policy from 1930 to 1932,

which intensified the crisis in Germany. The latter issue is related to the

former: If the Weimar economy was not ill, Br?ning had more economic leeway for

work creation programs and the like; and had he made use of it, Hitler possibly

would not have been able to seize power in January 1933.

It was the German economic historian Knut Borchardt who questioned in the late

1970s the then orthodox view that Br?ning’s policy was a complete failure. Not

only did Borchardt’s hypothesis that Br?ning did not have realistic

alternatives to his policy provoke many historians and economists, but all the

more his supply-side arguments. In essence, Borchardt saw the German economy of

the late 1920s as one that was torn by distributional conflicts between labor

and capital. The political revolution of 1918 soon lost its political impetus

and faded to a wage movement. Pay increases that outweighed productivity

increases constrained corporate profits and investment in the late 1920s, which

in turn led to only moderate growth and budget deficits. In this pessimistic

view, Br?ning was a captive of circumstances that were beyond his control.[1]

To date there has not been a textbook that summarizes the arguments and

evidence brought up in the academic debate, either in German or English. Now

Theo Balderston, Senior Lecturer in Economic History at the University of

Manchester, has written a small textbook that is published in the ‘Economic and

Social History’ series of Cambridge University Press. Balderston is very well

acquainted with the topic — in 1993 he published a very detailed study on “The

Origins and Course of the German Economic Crisis, November 1923 to May 1932″

(Berlin, 1993).

Balderston has structured his text in a conventional chronological order: (1)

Demobilisation and revolution, 1918-1919; (2) Treaty, reparations and ‘capacity

to pay’; (3) Inflation, 1918-1923; (4) Normalisation and stagnation?,

1924-1929; (5) The slump; (6) Epilogue. In his book, the author amply

demonstrates that he is familiar with the vast literature on the subject,

including even unpublished manuscripts of colleagues who work in the field.

Balderston, however, does not get lost in the details. What I did appreciate is

that Balderston, though not totally neutral, gives a balanced account of

conflicting views. His readers are not faced with an authoritative story but

are made familiar with different, often contradictory, explanations of various

authors. History students and first- or second-year economics students will

have difficulties with the underlying economic concepts, especially in chapters

(2) and (3). Though very useful, the ‘glossary of economic and political terms’

will not spare the attentive reader from having to acquire some elementary

economic knowledge.

To sum up: this booklet is a very useful introduction into the turbulent

economic and political events that shaped the Weimar economy. As the reader

soon will find out, this book does not offer simple answers to difficult


[1] See for Borchardt’s article, as well as others on the issue: Juergen von

Kruedener (ed.), Economic Crisis and Political Collapse: The Weimar Republic

1924-33 (German Historical Perspectives, 5), New York et al.: Berg, 1990.

Mark Spoerer is Lecturer in the Department of Economic and Social Sciences,

University of Hohenheim. Among his recent publications are “Forced Laborers in

Nazi Germany: Categories, Numbers, and Survivors,” Journal of

Interdisciplinary History, 33 (2002), pp. 169-204 (with Jochen

Fleischhacker); and “Economic Crises and the European Revolutions of 1848,”

Journal of Economic History, 61 (2001), pp. 293-326 (with Helge Berger).

Subject(s):Macroeconomics and Fluctuations
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII

The English Poor Laws, 1700-1930

Author(s):Brundage, Anthony
Reviewer(s):King, Steve

Published by EH.NET (March 2003)

Anthony Brundage, The English Poor Laws, 1700-1930. Basingstoke and New

York: Palgrave, 2002. vii + 185 pp. $69.95 or ?49.50 (hardcover), ISBN:


Reviewed for EH.NET by Steve King, Department of History, Oxford Brookes


This book joins those of Lynne Hollen Lees, Alan Kidd and Pat Thane in trying

to provide an accessible overview of the English and Welsh poor law system up

to its final decline in the 1920s. Like Lees, Brundage orders his narrative

chronologically and characterizes the different periods into which he breaks

the book with catchy titles of the sort that my undergraduate students at least

have found attractive. The book opens with a short introduction which in turn

starts with the story of one of the most famous workhouse children, Charlie

Chaplin, and moves very briefly through the variety of different approaches

that historians have taken in the writing of poor law history. To this reviewer

such an opening looked attractive and I was heartened by Brundage’s

determination to confront the problem of conveying “something of the complexity

and significance of the poor laws, without losing sight of the individual human

dimension” (p. 3). This is precisely what undergraduate students need, though I

did not see how such an aspiration was going to be achieved in 185 pages.

Chapter two, undoubtedly the weakest in the book, looks at the

eighteenth-century poor law. It briefly traces the legislative roots of the Old

Poor Law and then rapidly canters through institutional provision, Knatchbull’s

Act, medical care, attempts at poor law reform by Gilbert, the impact of the

Napoleonic war and the development of allowance systems. At the end of the

chapter we have almost seven pages on poor law thinkers, a theme carried on in

chapter three and certainly the territory where the author seems to be most at

home. Of course, a broad survey should not be lambasted for skating over big

issues, but in this chapter I feel that Brundage has neither fulfilled his

desire to give us the human dimension, or to communicate to students some of

the nuances of the eighteenth-century poor law. Thus, it is incorrect to say

that the township was the basis for the administration of relief in the north

from the outset of the Old Poor Law (p. 9); it is arguable whether “relatives

were pressed to assume the obligation” of looking after aged or impotent

relatives (p. 11); it is very arguable indeed whether parishes were “pleased”

with the system of farming the poor given the speed with which most abandoned

experiments (p. 13); it is too simple to say that the first task of the

overseer was to assess settlement and remove where possible (p. 13) given that

removal activity took place in spurts; and it is certainly not the case in

large areas of eighteenth-century England that for married women on relief ‘an

additional child often meant simply an increased allowance’ (p.15). For me,

these caveats detract from some of the strengths of the chapter. It is

excellent, for instance, that Brundage grapples with the concept of open and

closed parishes and with the issue of failed legislation here. These are

concepts that I keep talking about to my students and I am glad to see them


Chapter three deals with the period between 1800 and the decision to undertake

radical investigation of the operation of the Old Poor Law in 1832. Brundage

traces the influences (evangelical, economic, post-war dislocation and

political) shaping debate on the poor law and deals briefly with the

intervening legislation such as that establishing select vestries. Finally, he

identifies the Swing Riots as the factor which cemented the perceived need for

reform. I found the chapter frustrating. It provides a decent review of the

competing agenda’s for reform and my students have found the summary of figures

presented on page 40 very helpful. The chapter also provides some great turns

of phrase that I wish I had thought of. The idea that “the principles of

economics burrowed ever deeper into the culture and social values” of the

middling and political classes (p. 44) is a great example. However, the poor

themselves and the human element are completely missing from this chapter.

There is absolutely no reference to the work of Thomas Sokoll on pauper letters

in Essex and more widely the tendency for recent poor law historians to

repopulate this period with the poor through their narratives does not get a

mention. This is a shame, for such work provides a useful foil to the drier

politico-legislative angle that my students find hard work.

Chapter four deals with the shaping and initial imposition of the New Poor Law,

starting with the interpretation and reinterpretation of the Poor Law Report,

moving through the processes and politics of Union creation and popular and

community resistance against the imposition of the New Poor Law, and ending

with the role of the Andover workhouse scandal in hastening the demise of the

Poor Law Commission. Brundage, as we would expect from his previous books,

clearly feels most comfortable in this territory, and the chapter is well

written and convincing.

Chapter five deals with the period 1847-1870. It shows that a scandal-prone

poor law settled down into relatively anonymous middle age, with attempts to

expand poor law activities in the spheres of education, medical care (albeit

“haltingly and unofficially,” p. 96), treatment and control of the insane,

vagrancy, structural poverty and the complex laws relating to settlement and

Union finance. The chapter ends by showing how a combination of the Lancashire

cotton famine, growing pauperism in London and a series of medical scandals led

to calls once more for poor law reform. My students found this the most useful

of all the chapters, and its style and coverage is very much better than that

of chapter two.

Chapter six deals with the important subject of the crusade against out-relief,

the Charity Organisation Society and the democratization of the poor law Board

through the addition of working class and female Guardians. Brundage correctly

notes that “While most smaller towns and rural districts seem to have gone on

much as before” (p. 116), some places were alive to the chances offered by the

crusade and adopted it with vigor. He also points out, very usefully for

undergraduates, that this period witnessed a tension between those who had an

agenda of attacking the poor and those who had an agenda for extending the

services and scope of the poor law. Once more, it is a pity that the poor and

their strategies and voices are not heard here. Page 124 starts along this road

but more is necessary to humanize the poor law. It is also a pity that some

misinterpretation of the secondary literature confuses the reading. It is not

the case on page 126, for instance, that Hurren argues for Pell and Spencer

being in opposition.

Chapter seven deals with the final decline of the New Poor Law, tracing

experiments in poplarism, the scope, character and findings of the Royal

Commission on the Poor Laws, Liberal Welfare Reforms and the impact of the

Great War. The chapter is competently executed and feeds through into a

conclusion, which is actually a lot better than some of the chapters on which

it is based. Importantly, Brundage argues that “English poor law experience

[was] simultaneously consensual, contested and contingent.” Once I had

explained this sentence to my undergraduates, they were able to grasp more of

the nuances of the poor relief. Their question though was “whose poor law

experience?” This is my question too, for while Brundage gives us a review of

the poor law from the angle of administrators, politicians, charitable donors

and others, the poor and their economic, cultural and social experiences are

almost completely missing. Maybe this does not matter for a general survey, but

I cannot help feeling that a slightly longer book that really did keep sight

“of the individual human dimension” (p. 3), would have made a more valuable

contribution to the undergraduate reading list. This said, my students like the

volume; the copies in our library have rather more stamps than some of their

natural competitors!

Steven King is Head of the Department of History and Director of Research for

the School of Arts and Humanities at Oxford Brookes University, England. He has

recently edited The Poor in England 1700-1900: An Economy of Makeshifts

(Manchester University Press, 2003) and is currently working on a study of

female poor law guardians in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Subject(s):Government, Law and Regulation, Public Finance
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII

The Record of Global Economic Development

Author(s):Jones, Eric L.
Reviewer(s):Altman, Morris

Published by EH.NET (March 2003)

Eric L. Jones, The Record of Global Economic Development. Cheltenham, UK

and Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar, 2002. xviii + 226 pp. $90.00 (cloth), ISBN:


Reviewed for EH.NET by Morris Altman, Department of Economics, University of


Throughout his illustrious scholarly career, Eric Jones has made significant

contributions to both world and English economic history. In this vein, this

book contains contributions to both general and local economic history, albeit

the bulk of this text deals with issues raised in his European Miracle

(1981), relating to world economic development. This discourse on questions is

here further contextualized by more contemporary English and Australian

economic history.

A key objective of this book is to show that (p. vii) “plain economic history

can help pick out the more durable of the arrangements that favour growth.” He

argues that the conditions favoring long run growth are largely political and

include competitive markets, free trade, decentralized institutions, democracy,

the rule of law, and property rights. These themes surface throughout the text,

although free trade and anti-protectionism are the more dominant ones. This is,

in part, a response to the contemporary anti-free trade and anti-globalization

‘populism’ that has gained force in recent years. In his focus upon the

importance of political factors to the growth and development process, Jones

joins a growing literature on the subject exemplified in the work of North

(1990), Olson (2000) and, of course, Jones (1981). Additionally, Jones takes

aim at the thesis that ‘culture matters’ with regards to either promoting or

impeding long run economic growth. Culture, he contends, ultimately adjusts to

economic change. Jones’ critique of the ‘culture matters’ perspective, however,

is largely focused upon a critique of Deepak Lal-type (1998) theses that East

Asian values are superior to ‘Western’ values in terms of facilitating,

fostering, and maintaining socio-economic development.

More generally, Jones critiques the view that the development of the West was

and is a product of ripping-off the rest of the world and related to this view,

that free trade, markets, and capitalism are bad for growth, socio-economic

development and, more generally, for improving the well-being of all members of

society, including workers and peasants. Development, argues Jones, is a

product of the right institutions, just as development failure is largely a

product of failures in constructing institutions that are conducive to the

process of growth and development. This book makes for a provocative read,

raising important questions for all who are interested in questions of

contemporary economic development.

The Preface to this book serves as an excellent introduction to what is

discussed in the text, as Jones succinctly summarizes the thrust of each

chapter. The book is divided into four parts. The first deals with long-term

economic development, the second with protectionism and free trade, the third

with East Asian Development (where the culture-related discourse is focused),

and the fourth deals with adjustments to more recent global economic changes,

with a focus on the Australian experience.

Jones argues, in Chapter One, that economic history of the long dur?e-type has

a lot to teach us about those conditions that facilitate the process of both

extensive and intensive economic growth. Thus, economic history is not simply

of esoteric scholarly interest, but should also be of vital interest from a

public policy perspective. He raises concerns about most quantifiers — Angus

Maddison being the clear exception — as greatly exaggerating the importance of

nineteenth century growth and of those who maintain that the West developed

first fortuitously or because of its exploitation of the less developed

economies, causing the actual underdevelopment of the latter. Jones argues that

it is important to note that extensive growth — output simply keeping pace

with population growth and some urbanization — was and is an important facet

of growth since it indicates important changes in economy and society, such as

investment in infrastructure, new technology, and new crops, which served to

avoid Malthusian crises. Such growth has taken place for centuries prior to the

dramatic tipping over into intensive growth in the West during the nineteenth

century. Thus, intensive growth flowed from the far-from-static extensive

growth societies. However, for intensive growth — increasing per capita output

— to occur and be sustained required, as ‘first order conditions,’ political

stability and the security of property. Also of importance were the rule of law

(and the related decrease in arbitrary and royal power) and good information

markets (and the related decrease of censorship). For intensive growth to

occur, elites could no longer engage in taxing the marginal product at high

rates, thus shifting from a regime of rent seekers to a regime that accrues

income from the increasing marketization of society.

Chapters Two and Three further elaborate upon the themes planted in Chapter

One, pointing out in the process that finding that the West developed first is

not indicative of Western triumphalism and chauvinism as some of the critics of

Jones’ European Miracle would have it. Rather, understanding and

recognizing the fact that the West was the first to engage in sustained

intensive growth, to be followed by Japan, allows us to glean some of the

general conditions necessary for the process of sustained socio-economic

development. He points to the importance of decentralized political

institutions which allowed for the politically and economically oppressed to

flee (thus the importance of labor mobility) and the importance of increasing

markets which allowed for significant ‘Smithian’-based intensive growth. He

points out, for example, that China blocked exploratory market expanding and

enhancing activities. Such negative state intervention was not possible in the

much more decentralized Western Europe. Jones also underlines the importance of

political pluralism, the rule of law (equality before the law) and a free press

for sustained intensive growth. Only under such an institutional regime can

systematic economic and political errors be critiqued and corrected. Also of

importance are the incentives for growth provided by a regime wherein

individuals have a right to retain the fruits of their labors. Jones also

maintains that culture, in terms of particular values, was not important to the

rise of the West. Rather values change to accommodate economic development.

However, this rather dismissive perspective on culture pays little heed to the

contemporary ‘culture matters’ literature (Harrison 1992; Harrison and

Huntington 2000), which points to the importance of institutional change as

necessary to the development process, where the latter is affected by the norms

and mores of society, especially by the decision makers of society.

Long run agricultural development is the focus of Chapter Four. Jones argues

that agricultural growth was a product of both supply and demand changes, very

often a product of independent changes in supply, related to intercontinental

crop and animal transfers, new methods of farming, trade flows, and

institutional innovations. Agricultural progress is also related to the

breaking up of large estates into smaller units thereby releasing

entrepreneurial energies, mechanisms for facilitating the transfer of new ideas

(including education), and incentives to adopt new ideas. Jones critiques the

view that the importance of long run world agricultural exchange should largely

be measured in terms of the convergence of agricultural prices. Rather, he

argues one has to determine counterfactually what might have occurred to

agricultural prices, population growth, and standards of living in the absence

of the type of international agricultural exchanges that transpired from the

sixteenth century. He argues that these exchanges allowed for an unprecedented

increase in population, which marked a significant economic achievement. Thus,

the ‘Age of Discovery’ was not an era dominated by rent seeking, but rather of

highly significant economic advance. Jones views agricultural protectionism as

a key deterrent to further agricultural progress and views the agricultural

protectionism in the contemporary West as damaging the economic well-being of

the population of both developed and less developed economies.

Chapters Five and Six focus on different aspects of protectionism. In Chapter

Five, focusing on contemporary England, Jones addresses the issue of

multifunctionality — unpriced positive spillovers from agricultural production

— as a raison d’?tre for the protection of uncompetitive agricultural sectors.

Jones argues that, on the contrary, there is no evidence of such positive

externalities. Indeed, farmers tend to generate significant negative

externalities, which are only exacerbated by protectionism. Moreover,

protectionism itself comes at a huge direct public expense, including keeping

too much land in agriculture as opposed to providing more tourist space —

urbanites escaping to ‘pristine’ rural settings — which is what the market

demands but which protected farmers will not provide. Resources are

misallocated at the expense of the general public. In Chapter Six Jones argues

against linguistic protection wherein society subsidizes the learning and

spread of ‘dead’ or dying languages at the expense English, which has become,

for historical reasons, the lingua franca, of the world economy. Jones argues

that linguistic nationalists are largely rent seekers who pay little attention

to the opportunity costs incurred by the larger society by their policies. He

argues, for example, that efforts to dissuade the use of English are

particularly damaging in terms of reducing the mobility of labor, increasing

transaction costs, and negatively impacting productivity. The losers in the

game of linguistic nationalism are the people at large — not the elites. Jones

does not argue against the preservation of local cultures and languages per se

as much as critiquing such policies when they interfere with learning proper

internationally understood English where the latter enhances the capacity of a

society as a whole to develop and prosper.

At this point it is important to note that Jones’ critique of protectionism is

narrowly focused on agriculture and language, although he maintains that the

absence of protectionism is a key cause of growth and development. He pays no

heed to the literature which points to the potential importance of selective

protection in newly developing economies to their development process and to

the clear positive correlation, pre-World War Two, between protection and

intensive growth (Bairoch 1993; O’Rourke 2000). The same can be said for the

rapidly developing East Asian economies after the Second World War. In a world

where comparative advantage is dynamically affected by learning-by-doing, for

example, temporary protection can serve as a development tool (Altman 1999).

Related to this is the unanswered question of how should less developed

economies respond to the protectionism of the more developed economies? Should

the less developed world choose the route of unilateral free trade or should it

use its own protectionism, in certain instances, as a tool for bargaining for a

more even tariff-related playing field?

In Chapters Seven, Eight, and Nine Jones critiques the perspective that culture

matters to the process of economic development in the context of East Asian

development. He intends to critique the view that culture either impeded or

caused economic development as opposed to political factors. Moreover, Jones

apparently identifies the ‘culture matters’ perspective with the notion that

culture is immutable. Instead he argues that culture can changes and does as

economic variables change. Economic change yields cultural change and ‘good’

culture can be learnt. Once again, Jones’ views do not contravene the

contemporary culture matters school which views cultural change as possible and

institutional change as key to economic change. In these chapters Jones argues

that for contemporary East Asia to flourish economically requires a more

pluralistic society, with a freer press, and a more independent judiciary — in

a word to be less authoritarian. This increases the capacity for society to

self-correct. He argues that one reason for the current crisis in East Asia has

been that these economies have not gone far enough down the road towards a more

pluralistic and less authoritarian society. He also maintains that the current

crisis demonstrates the failure of the statist approaches to development

adopted in many of the East Asian economies, inclusive of Japan. However, can

one important (financial) crisis, in itself, undermine the hypothesis that an

activist state in a mixed market economy can play a positive role in the

process of economic development, where such activism is positively related to

decades of unprecedented intensive economic growth in key East Asian Economies?

Should one pay heed to the policies of the IMF which, some have argued, played

a critical role in causing and exacerbating the recent East Asian crisis

(Stiglitz 2002)?

In Chapter Ten, Jones discusses the failure of the Australian economy to move

fast enough into the service sector as compared to other developed economies

and relates this to protection and inadequate investment in education. Chapter

Eleven, exploits a narrative on the rise of the supermarket in Australia to

discuss the hypothesis that structural change involving the destruction of the

smaller shop is somehow bad for society and economy. Jones argues that the rise

of the supermarket is in part a product of consumers choosing to shop at these

food retail outlets, which have dramatically increased the quantity and quality

of choices afforded to consumers. He also argues that the supermarket has

changed in response to dramatic shifts in consumer tastes over time. Efforts to

protect the old forms of food retailing would, Jones argues, only negatively

impact upon consumer well-being.

In Chapter Twelve Jones presents a highly polemical critique of the

anti-globalization forces and, on the other side of the coin, a strong defense

of market capitalism. He argues that the available statistics clearly show that

over the course of the past one hundred years most of the world’s population

has seen its socio-economic position improve in absolute terms, indicated by

improvements in life expectancy for example, and the absence of major

Malthusian crises which had plagued the world in previous centuries. Jones

argues that free trade and globalization are the means to resolve the world’s

socio-economic problems. But undemocratic institutions, especially NGOs, led by

misguided individuals, have seriously damaged the capacity of markets to

resolve problems of poverty and overall economic underdevelopment, by attacking

growth and freer trade as unequivocal forces of evil. The anti-globalization

activists, argues Jones, effectively serve the interests of rent-seekers both

at home and abroad, not those of the poor and dispossessed. In this instance,

one must contextualize Jones’ polemic in terms of the narrative presented in

previous chapters wherein markets and trade yield widespread benefits, which

can be sustained only in the context of an appropriate institutional setting.

It would also be important to note that although the NGOs are undemocratic so

are the multinational corporations who are lobbying for a particular path of

competitiveness, which involves lower wages and related benefits to labor and

an overall deterioration in labor standards and working conditions. This is

deemed to be the only path possible for capitalist development to take. The

evidence clearly shows that this is not the case. There indeed exist multiple

paths to competitiveness (Altman 2002). But then the NGOs, however misguided

about the great potential contained in capitalism for fostering and promoting

the human good, serve as a countervail to those who would maintain that

capitalism and globalization require that the population at large must see

their socio-economic position deteriorate (Stiglitz 2002). Needless to say,

Jones makes an important point in underlining the dangers posed, from the point

of view of institutional design and long run intensive growth, by misinformed

and misguided critiques of capitalist production and trade.

Overall, Jones’ most recent book represents an important contribution to the

literature on the role of institutional design in economic growth and

development and the contribution which economic history can make in furthering

our understanding of some of the key forces underlying the process of economic



Altman, Morris (1999), “Free Trade and Protectionism.” In P. O’Hara, ed.

Encyclopedia of Political Economy, vol. 1 (London: Routledge), pp.


Altman, Morris (2002), Satisfaction and Economic Performance (Armonk,

NY: M.E. Sharpe Publishers).

Bairoch, Paul (1993), Economics and World History: Myths and Paradoxes

(Chicago: Chicago University Press).

Harrison, Lawrence .E. (1992). Who Prospers? How Cultural Values Shape

Economic and Political Success (New York: Basic Books).

Harrison, Lawrence E. and Samuel P. Huntington, eds. (2000). Culture

Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress (New York: Basic Books).

Jones, Eric L. (1981), The European Miracle: Environments, Economies, and

Geopolitics in the History of Europe and Asia (Cambridge/New York:

Cambridge University Press).

Lal, Deepak (1998), Unintended Consequences: The Impact of Factors

Endowments, Culture, and Politics on Long-Run Economic Performance

(Cambridge, MA: MIT Press).

North, Douglass C. (1990), Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic

Performance (New York: Cambridge University Press).

Olson, Mancur (2000), Power and Prosperity: Outgrowing Communist and

Capitalist Dictatorships (New York: Basic Books).

O’Rourke, Kevin (2000), “Tariffs and Growth in the Late Nineteenth Century.”

Economic Journal, vol. 110, pp. 456-43.

Stiglitz, Joseph E. (2002), Globalization and Its Discontents (W.W.

Norton and Company).

Morris Altman is Professor and Head, Department of Economics, University of

Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. He has published extensively in

both economic history and economic theory. His most recent article are: “Staple

Theory and Export-Led Growth: Constructing Differential Growth,” Australian

Economic History Review, 2004 (forthcoming) and, with Louise Lamontagne,

“On the Natural Intelligence of Women in a World of Constrained Choice: How the

Feminization of Clerical Work Contributed to Gender Pay Equality in Early

Twentieth Century Canada,” Journal of Economic Issues, 2004


Subject(s):Social and Cultural History, including Race, Ethnicity and Gender
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):General or Comparative

Modelling the Middle Ages: The History and Theory of England’s Economic Development

Author(s):Hatcher, John
Bailey, Mark
Reviewer(s):Richardson, Gary

Published by EH.NET (March 2003)

John Hatcher and Mark Bailey, Modelling the Middle Ages: The History and

Theory of England’s Economic Development. Oxford: Oxford University Press,

2001. xiii + 254 pp. $49.95 (cloth), ISBN: 0-19-924411-1; $19.95 (paperback),

ISBN: 0-19-924412-X.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Gary Richardson, Department of Economics, University of

California, Irvine.

Modelling the Middle Ages, by John Hatcher and Mark Bailey, provides a

cogent and comprehensive survey of the history and economics of late medieval

England and an invaluable survey of the history of thought concerning those

topics. Scholars interested in these issues should read this book. It will be

especially valuable for graduate and undergraduate economic history courses,

where I expect it to be widely adopted, and for researchers, like myself, with

an interest in medieval England but who had to learn the material on their own,

because they studied at institutions that lacked leading (or any) scholars in

the field. I base my strong recommendation on three features of the text:

First, the book is insightful. It demystifies the beliefs underlying the

arguments of most economic historians — beliefs derived from intellectual

foundations established in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by Adam

Smith, Thomas Malthus, David Ricardo, Karl Marx, and other eminent scholars. It

explains how and why the work of those intellectual forefathers generated three

grand explanatory models, “population and resources,” “class power and property

relations,” and “commercialization,” and how those models influenced debates

among historians and social scientists concerning the causes and consequences

of economic development during the Middle Ages.

Second, the book is useful, in the most practical sense of the term. It

summarizes two hundred years of scholarly literature in a few hundred pages

while building a framework, a lexicon, and a syntax that will allow scholars to

compare and contrast their ideas more precisely than they currently can. It

will have wide applications in other fields, such as global history,

particularly global history, where similar models form the foundation of

similar debates.

Third, the book is clear, lucid, and accurate. In some cases, the book explains

author’s ideas better than the original expositors did themselves. The clarity

of the prose and the organization of the argument assure the material will be

accessible to students at all levels.

The foreword and introduction establish the motives of the authors and sketch

an outline of their argument. The authors hope to fulfill a “pressing need of

undergraduate students studying the medieval economy for an introduction to the

theory and practice behind the grand models of development which dominate the

subject (p. vii).” As I mentioned earlier, they more than accomplish that goal.

The authors also hope to contribute to the ongoing scholarly debates concerning

the economic development of medieval England. They plan to compare and contrast

the intellectual and empirical content of the methods and models used to study

medieval English economic history and in doing so shed light on the advantages

and disadvantages of each method as well as advance our knowledge of the Middle

Ages. They also accomplish this goal, as my description of the remainder of the

book, and hopefully your reading of the text, should demonstrate.

Chapter 1, Methods and Models, explains “why the medieval period has proved so

attractive to the builders of historical models, and theorizing so attractive

to medieval historians (p. 3).” The Middle Ages lasted for more than five

centuries. During that long era, transformations occurred in almost every area

of economic and social life. Merely describing these changes is a challenging

task. “Historians cannot hope to describe, analyze, and explain them by

gathering and narrating factual information alone (p. 4).” They must choose to

present certain facts and materials but not others. Their emphasize depends

upon their point of view, their prior beliefs, and the point which they wish to

make. Theory and speculation are therefore indispensable ingredients of any

grand survey. They impose a degree of coherence and clarity and force scholars

to fit the facts into a manageable working framework. In this way, order can be

imposed upon the chaos of vast numbers of pieces of information and answers

formulated to crucial questions. In addition, abstract concepts and formal

models help scholars explain why things happened as they did and what might

have happened in counterfactual cases. Explaining such things requires more

than mere narration. Historical changes lasting several centuries and

penetrating all spheres of economic, social, and political activity were the

culmination of an infinite number of individual events. No one can describe

them all. Comprehending them requires analysis, a systematic approach to the

material, the sorting and grading of information, and the weighing of the

relative merits of different concepts. Models, in other words, are needed to

seek the reasons behind vast historical processes such as the rise and decline

of serfdom and feudalism, the rise of the money economy and capitalism, the

rise and contraction of economic activity, and the growth of urbanization and


Chapter 2, Population and Resources, focuses on the first of the grand

supermodels, and the ways in which assumptions influence its results and in

which it impinges on historical analysis “in both a helpful and harmful

manner.” The population and resource model, also known as the demographic or

Malthusian model, stems from a core set of simple economic relationships. The

productivity of agriculture depends upon the relative scarcity of the two prime

factors of production: land and labor. As addition units of one input are

employed while the others are held constant, the output generated by each

additional unit will eventually fall (diminishing returns). Thus, when land is

abundant relative to labor, the productivity of the land will be low. The

productivity of labor will be high. Products of the land, like foodstuffs and

raw materials such as leather, wool, and wood, will be inexpensive. Wages will

be high. When labor is abundant relative to land, the productivity of the land

will be high. The productivity of labor will be low. Food and rents will be

expensive. Real wages will fall. There is clear potential for applying such

basic supply and demand analysis to conditions prevailing in medieval England.

“There is abundant evidence to show that over the longer term there was a

strong correlation between rising population, on the one hand, and increasing

land values and agricultural prices, and falling real wages, and, on the other,

between declining population, falling prices and land values, and rising real

wages. By this analysis the Middle Ages falls into two sharply contrasting

periods; with the broad experience of much of the era up until the fourteenth

century conforming to the former set of circumstances, and the later

characteristics persisting throughout much of the late fourteenth and fifteenth

centuries” (pp. 22-23).

Chapter 3, Class Power and Property Relations, examines the second grand

supermodel, which begins with the presumption that the keys to understanding

the economic development lie in the social relations and political and legal

institutions of society. Of particular importance are the “relations between

the leading classes and in developments of what are termed the ‘mode of

production'” (p. 67). The most popular models of this type are those

constructed by Karl Marx and his intellectual descendants. For Marxists,

“history is a dialectical process in which the future is shaped by the present,

just as the present was shaped by the past, and each distinct era of human

development — ancient, oriental, feudal, capitalist — generates from within

itself the conditions which will ultimately transform it” (pp. 67-8). Marxists

focus their attention on a limited range of issues, particularly relations and

conflicts among social classes as well as the mode, means, and relations of

production, as the main agents of social and economic change and development.

Thus, the dynamic for the transformation of medieval society lay primarily in

the relationship between lords and peasants, who were the two principle classes

of feudal society. The relationship was inevitably one of conflict, due to the

opposing interests of landlord and tenant, and eventually resulted in a ‘crisis

of feudalism,’ whose “onset is usually located in the late thirteenth and early

fourteenth centuries” (p. 71). At that time, the increasingly excessive

depredations of the landlord class undermined agricultural productivity,

plunged the peasantry into poverty, and inspired them to struggle against the

exploitative social system.

Chapter 4, Commercialization, Markets, and Technology, focuses on commercial

activity and technical progress. The bulk of the space is devoted to the

rapidly expanding evidentiary base and to the discussion of ways in which

markets and technology could overcome Malthusian, Ricardian, and Marxist

constraints on economic development. There are two basic theories. Improvements

in agriculture — such as improving land management, crop rotation, and

selective breeding of crops and animals — raised the productivity of land and

labor. Urbanization and commercialization expanded the scope of the market, the

division of labor, and the wealth of nations.

Chapter 5, The Importance of Time and Place, explores the weaknesses of the

models discussed in the previous chapters from three different perspectives.

The first exposes the difficulties that emerge when the models are applied to

both the early and later Middle Ages. In each case, assumptions needed to apply

and conclusions drawn from the application of a model to the earlier era

conflict with those from the later period. The second reviews the wide range of

alternative models that have been proposed and which illuminate inadequacies in

existing models. The third tests the validity of the assumptions and methods of

each of the major supermodels by applying them to a particular test case: the

rise and decline of serfdom in medieval England.

Chapter 6, Beyond the Classic Supermodels, stresses the limitations of the

models described during the previous chapters. The principal flaws are their

neglect of social factors, institutions, historical contingency, and the

uncertainties inherent in individual behavior and group dynamics. The chapter

ends on a hopeful note, by suggesting ways in which the limitations of these

models might be overcome historically, empirically, and theoretically.

Overall, the book does an excellent job of accomplishing its two goals. The

first was to provide a clear and accessible introduction to the conceptual

frameworks that have dominated this field for many decades. The second was to

assess the strengths, weaknesses, relevance, and credibility of the models. The

book itself has many strengths and few weaknesses. I think that in the future

students interested in this topic will read it.

Gary Richardson is Assistant Professor of Economics at UC-Irvine. His

dissertation, “Social Change and Industrial Expansion before the Industrial

Revolution” was completed at the UC-Berkeley.

Subject(s):History of Economic Thought; Methodology
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):Medieval

Bristol Historical Resource CD

Author(s):Wardley, Peter
Reviewer(s):Bud-Frierman, Lisa

Published by EH.NET (March 2003)


Peter Wardley, editor, Bristol Historical Resource CD. Bristol: University of the West of England, 2000, . Single user cost: ?45/$80; network license: ?200/$350, ISBN: 1-86043-308-1.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Lisa Bud-Frierman, Centre for International Business History, University of Reading, UK.

The editor, Peter Wardley, views this CD-ROM not as a “definitive” history of a city, but as a demonstration of the relevance of new technologies to historical practice. The vast array of historical case studies of Bristol which he has gathered are present as much for their novel research and presentation methods as for their intrinsic value in terms of content. He views this as a radical experimental departure from traditional publications.

Among British cities, Bristol was second only to London as a trading city, port, and population center. Only in the nineteenth century was it overtaken as a gateway to the west by Liverpool. Its history is therefore both distinctive and interesting.

This CD provides a history whose scale is appropriate to the significance of the city. Based at Bristol’s University of the West of England, the creation of the product under review was a substantial undertaking. A large group of authors contributed diverse resources, even though the technical staff available to install them was small, and the project had to be completed on a very tight budget.

The physical size of the single CD-ROM on which the Bristol Historical Resource is mounted provides no clue to the encyclopaedic scale of the content as measured in information terms (with 1,647 files adding up to 83.9 megabytes). Both design and navigation are conventional.

Some users may, however, be disheartened by the application of the technology. This is most apparent when one attempts to launch the program, which is cumbersome. Resources, including some datasets and HIST — a statistical toolkit — are not available for Mac users.

It is a particular challenge for a reviewer to assess such a team effort. Unlike the well-established norms of academic book reviews, which focus on content, an unusual degree of attention must also be a paid to design and technology.

Much of Wardley’s introduction is a paean to the utility of IT and electronic media for historians. He hopes this CD will serve as a forum from which professionals and amateurs, urban and local historians, established scholars and postgraduate students, can obtain useful information and enter into a lively debate. The price of appealing to such a broad audience, Wardley readily admits, “. . . is probably more unevenness in the nature and length of the various contributions than is customary.” The thirty-nine-page introduction itself exemplifies some of the difficulties associated with transferring standard academic formats from paper to VDUs. Long stretches of unbroken text are not well suited to on-screen viewing, so readers may opt to print the material. It would have been advantageous to provide “live” notes here and elsewhere in the CD, which is a convenient feature of most electronic resources.

Irrespective of the technology used, some aspects of the content also require comment. The introduction was not adequately edited and contains numerous typographical and spelling errors plus a page duplication. Wardley’s “Historical Sources and Methods” section presents information about archives and museums in the Bristol area, as well as generic issues raised by the use of written sources (printed and handwritten). His sections on “Visual Sources” and “Maps” are extended essays, which raise important issues about interpretation. They could, perhaps, have been better treated separately in the body of the CD. In the introduction itself a concise summary about the problems of understanding visual representations might have sufficed. Further sections include a useful synopsis of Bristol’s history, from Anglo-Saxon times to the present, and a consideration of local history, statistical and quantitative sources and tools, and public history.

Despite his long treatment, Wardley does not relate his analysis to the important work of Stephen Brier and Roy Rosensweig in the field of public history and multimedia. Wardley has also bypassed a major historiographic issue concerning narrative and interactive media. Edward L. Ayers has eloquently argued that conventional historical writing tends to camouflage rather than reveal the true complexity of the past. Hypertextual narrative in particular, has the potential to prompt historians to think anew about the association of ideas and the structure of knowledge:

Such a medium would offer new ways of making arguments and associations, of arraying evidence and documenting our assertions. It would offer layered or branching or interweaving narratives, or deep and dynamic annotation and indexing. It would permit us to embed narratives in shared networks of communication so that references, connections, and commentaries grow and change. It would hold out a new aesthetics of historical narrative.

Edward L. Ayers (1999) ‘The Pasts and Futures of Digital History’

The CD contains datasets, resources, a glossary, a bibliography, and articles about Bristol. The datasets are valuable and interesting. At the same time, one should note that their presentation on spreadsheets produced with sundry software, is slightly primitive and “clunky.” It would be a shame if less-than-smooth access defeated Wardley’s wish for his audience to readily adapt them for their own uses.

The resource section includes HIST, a statistical toolkit for history students. Pitched at a basic level, it features regression and correlation analysis, time series, growth rates, etc. If students were to lack a fundamental statistical knowledge, it would be important for them to gain guidance from their teachers. For instance, the selection of an inappropriate baseline for moving averages would produce spurious results. HIST is a useful device, but it has one irritating aspect: it does not seem to be possible to correct entries without recommencing the whole process.

A timeline based on the compilation of very detailed information, will be of interest to local historians of Bristol. Other features of this CD are a PowerPoint presentation on the 1774 election, about half a dozen moving images, and numerous visual images; there are however no sound files.

Over thirty authors including academics, students, and amateur historians have contributed a total of thirty-six articles covering the period from the Anglo-Saxons to the present, with a particular emphasis on the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries.

The papers are classified under the headings of methodology, buildings, places and people, economic history, health and social welfare, law and crime and politics. Each is broad in scope and quality but there are some outstanding pieces.

In the “methodology” category, Rob Petre and Richard Burley have written a fine article on the Bristol Record Office (BRO), which offers generic information about historical records and institutions based on exemplary material from the BRO. The electronic medium enables them to include a large array of images, including facsimiles of original documents with transcriptions. Moreover, this article takes advantage of the branching links that distinguish the technology from conventional print. For instance, they describe different types of information (historical, geographical, topographical, economic, and social) which may be found in an archive. If the user clicks on “geographical,” this leads to a choice of further information on “visual” and “documentary” details about landscape history. When the “visual” pathway is followed it points to a “maps” section, which subdivides into material on “estates,” “parishes,” and the “Ordnance Survey.” This facet of the CD is thus a resource of great depth, breadth, and flexibility.

Another article by Petre on handwriting in historic English documents from 1100 onwards contains interesting content for novices in cursive hand but ultimately disappoints because the technology was not properly deployed. Whilst pop-up windows displaying each style of writing are available, no magnification function is provided, nor could the user readily access further resources directly from within the confines of the article. The latter had to be inconveniently obtained by consulting files in a directory elsewhere on the CD, a navigation problem that is rife throughout the articles section.

In the “Buildings, Places, and People” section one can point to “Women and Property in Early Tudor Bristol” by Peter Fleming. This is a well-written article drawing on legal records from the Public Record Office in Kew. It concerns a legal dispute over the possession of a Bristol inn. This examination of a series of court cases in the 1520s and 1530s is an interesting account which clarifies much about the role of women as well as the legal system at the time. “Economic History: Commerce, Trade and Industry” is the longest section with fourteen papers. Madge Dresser leads with the “Atlantic Slave Trade in Bristol, England: Some Reflections on Sources and Approaches.” In the period 1730-1745, Bristol was the main slaving port in the country. After an interesting foray into the historiography of Bristol’s slave trade, 1698-1838, Dresser introduces new sources for scholars. These vary from inventories to poems. She makes excellent use of illustrations, which are at a good level of resolution, informative pop-ups, documents from the Public Record Office, and ample use of material from local libraries, museums and galleries. The bibliography is very complete.

Historians have traditionally focused on Bristol’s overseas and colonial trade in the early eighteenth century. Moving on to a later period, Charles Harvey and Jon Press contribute an article previously published in an edited volume. Entitled “Industrial Change in Bristol since 1800,” this is an extremely thorough survey of Bristol’s economic history covering the docks, staples, coal, textiles, non-ferrous metals, financial institutions, utilities, transport, engineering, automobiles, aerospace, chemicals, and zinc. It also offers broader perspectives such as corporate responses to economic growth and structural change, urban development, innovation and technical change. Harvey and Press argue that the diversified economy of Bristol has contributed to the city’s long-term prosperity.

Derek Braddon and Paul Dowdall deal with “The Historical Importance of Bristol’s Defence and Aerospace Sector.” They begin in 1910 and investigate companies like British Aerospace and Rolls-Royce. The theme of government expenditure in the twentieth century runs through this analysis: at the end of this period Bristol was more dependent on defense spending than anywhere else in the UK. The authors provide production tables, tables of defense expenditure, and some images.

The short and cohesive section on “Health and Social Welfare” includes an article by Archer et al on “Health Statistics, 1838-1995” which includes a good discussion of debates about public health, sanitation, living standards, and epidemiology.

John Hazlehurst, in “Inequalities in Health in Bristol between the Wars 1918-1939” has gathered a variety of statistical and other evidence relevant to public health in the period. He found that systemic barriers prevented those with the greatest need from receiving services and also that inefficiencies and lack of resources meant that clients suffered further deprivation. The government blamed the personal behavior of clients for their situation rather than focusing on social conditions of poverty and poor nutrition. This article includes pop-up tables and a glossary of mostly medical terms.

“Law and Crime” is a weaker section in which the bulk of articles, though concerned with the nineteenth century, seem to lack the purpose or context evident elsewhere. An exception is Steve Mills’ work, which considers whether juvenile crime increased in Bristol in the period 1810-20. He analyzes the effects of such factors as demobilization after the end of the Napoleonic war, poverty, urbanization, and alcohol abuse. Mills concludes that convictions increased and juveniles made up a large proportion of the total in the immediate post-war decade. The introduction explains the point and significance of the study, methods used, evidence, and the selection of spreadsheet fields. It contains useful biographical material.

The section on “Politics” is perhaps the least cohesive. Joseph Bettey considers “The Dissolution of Religious Houses in Bristol” in an engaging and well-illustrated piece, which explores the suppression of the monasteries after 1540, including the roles of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII and local agents. His work however is not in any obvious way connected to the other articles in the section.


The Bristol Historical Resource is a fruit bowl from which a reader must pick and choose. Of Wardley’s potential audience he probably offers the most to undergraduate history students. Although the datasets are hard to use, with guidance and motivation students could benefit from the otherwise inaccessible resources and diverse scholarship.

This CD demonstrates both the promise and pitfalls of the electronic medium for historical practitioners. Its significance goes well beyond Bristol to encompass broader questions about methodology and the nature of publication. The producers of this work have drawn on various genres, most notably, electronic editions, digital archives, databases, teaching tools, and books. Measured against the very best in each of these categories, it may be considered to be wanting. An electronic edition like the British Library’s stunning “Electronic Beowulf” has made far better use of the visual medium. It must be said that Wardley’s work does not display quite the historiographic sophistication or superb functionality, interactivity, or design of Timothy Lenoir’s website and electronic archive devoted to the history of human-computer interaction. ( While innovative in concept and exciting in its vision, the Bristol Historical Resource offers others opportunities to surpass it in execution.

(The CD can be ordered at

Lisa Bud-Frierman is currently developing a website on globalization and business history to support university teaching.

Subject(s):Social and Cultural History, including Race, Ethnicity and Gender
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):General or Comparative

Fort Union and the Upper Missouri Fur Trade

Author(s):Barbour, Barton H.
Reviewer(s):Fender, Ann Harper

Published by EH.NET (March 2003)

Barton H. Barbour, Fort Union and the Upper Missouri Fur Trade. Norman,

OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 2001. xvi + 304 pp. $34.95 (hardcover), ISBN:

0-8061-3295-7; $19.95 (paperback), ISBN: 0-8061-3498-4.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Ann Harper Fender, Department of Economics, Gettysburg


A visit to a reconstructed fur trade post usually takes today’s visitor off

frequently traveled major highways. Fort Union, reconstructed and opened in

1995, rises impressively above the upper Missouri River between Williston,

North Dakota and Culbertson, Montana, far from congested roads. Barton

Barbour’s engaging history reminds readers that such forts were sited along the

major transport routes of their time. The northwest to southeast flow of the

upper Missouri/Mississippi Rivers gave relatively cheap albeit seasonal access

from St. Louis to the upper plains region. Fort Union, near the confluence of

the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers, dominated the fur trade of the upper

Missouri from 1830 until 1867.

Barbour begins with a history of the European-North American fur trade,

formally initiated by the1670 English charter to the Hudson’s Bay Company. Its

charter granted monopoly rights to trade in lands whose waters drained into

Hudson Bay. The Upper Missouri, draining southward to the Mississippi, is close

to the Red River that drains into Hudson Bay. The border between Canada and the

U.S. cuts across this drainage system leading to cross border excursions of

native trappers, European/American traders, and fur-bearing animals. By the end

of Fort Union’s life, Canadian traders increasingly used cart haulage routes

between modern Winnipeg and St.Paul, Minnesota in preference to Hudson Bay

routes. Inevitably, the fur trade became embroiled in international boundary

issues and its posts played military and diplomatic as well as commercial

roles. As Barbour makes clear, however, the fur trade was essentially a

business, with close attention paid to cutting costs, expanding sources of

supply, and maintaining market share. Barbour explains how John Jacob Astor’s

American Fur Company and the Columbia Fur Company, based in St. Louis,

Missouri, competed vigorously for the furs of the upper Missouri through the

1820s. Both companies realized that splitting the geographic market would yield

each higher profit, but agreement proved elusive. Merger solved the problem,

just as the 1821 merger of the Hudson’s Bay Company with the North West Company

solved similar competitive problems to the north. In 1827, the former Columbia

Fur Company became the St. Louis-based Upper Missouri Outfit within the

American Fur Company. Throughout Fort Union’s existence the UMO faced “petty”

competition and had to make strategic decisions about whether to buy out

competitors or to drive them from the field by vigorous trading.

Barbour includes a chapter on the business aspects of Fort Union trade, a story

resembling similar material on the Hudson’s Bay Company. After a quick but very

informative history of the North American fur trade, Barbour examines details

of Fort Union’s construction. He provides numerous sketches of the post, as

well as material from private diaries and from journals kept as part of

business records. Not often covered in such histories, this chapter attends to

both evidence and speculation about how, or if, the fort disposed of effluent

associated with housing and feeding approximately three hundred persons.

Larger fur trade posts welcomed a variety of noted visitors and Fort Union was

no exception with artists, scientists, explorers and missionaries making their

way up the Missouri. Using company records and the visitors’ diaries, Barbour

chronicles these visits. Barbour also uses these records to build a composite

picture of life within the fort. As the growing recent history of the fur trade

emphasizes, European/American traders and Native trappers were economically

interdependent. The typical post was rich in multiculturalism long before it

became academically chic. Survival in the demanding conditions of the upper

plains required adaptation. Marriages between traders and native women were

frequent and often long-term (and resembled marriages among the families of fur

trading firms). Barbour gives a particularly interesting description of how the

fort dealt with several smallpox outbreaks. The fort and the fur trade in

general had codes of conduct that could not be broken without consequences, as

Barbour’s account makes clear.

Despite depictions of the fur trade as a lawless venture or perhaps because of

this depiction, governmental agencies regulated the trade. American (and

English) sensitivity to monopoly led to frequent outcries against the large fur

trading firms. The use of alcohol in the trade generated calls for prohibition.

Fur trading firms were required to have licenses to do business in Indian

territory and political connections helped to determine who received the

licenses. Periodically the federal government set up its own “factories” to

conduct trade with the natives; invariably the Natives preferred to trade with

private firms. These governmental restrictions were not unique to the Upper

Missouri, but Barbour details their impact on Fort Union and how the Company’s

political relationships affected its prosperity. Barbour compares records of

alcohol use and abuse in the fur trade with its use and abuse by U.S. soldiers;

from this evidence, the fur traders and their customers do not look so bad.

Government-company relationships also included the UMO’s role in transporting

goods and soldiers for the U.S. government.

Even as the fur trade represents “pre-industrial” North America, industrial

technology was making inroads. Early in Fort Union’s history, steam power

overtook manpower as the preferred source of energy to move upstream on the

Missouri, evidenced by the large number of steamboat names that Barbour


The political changes wrought by the Civil War, the opening up of both wagon

and rail roads to the west, the discovery of gold in Montana, the incessant

resettlement of Indians, and the decline of the bison contributed to the

economic demise of Fort Union and its parent company. Because much of the

Indian trade involved buffalo robes, the diminishment of the large western

herds especially affected Fort Union. The fur trade interests of the Upper

Missouri Outfit were sold in 1865 and in 1867 Fort Union was demolished.

Barbour muses about the causes of the fort’s decline; he finds the American

drive for a uniform culture unable to tolerate the multicultural diversity of

the fur trade. This conclusion to a fine history strikes this reviewer as a

reach that weakens his story, a story that appropriately resurrects the fur

trade from villain to multicultural model. Attitudes might have hastened the

decline of the fur trade and amiable white/Indian relations, but the trade

disappeared because its economic usefulness had ended with new population

movements and new technology.

As an Assistant Professor of History at Boise State University, Barton Barbour

appropriately ends his fascinating story with a lengthy and helpful

bibliographic essay. The author provides more than enough detail for the

professional historian and writes a good story for the casual reader interested

in the American west.

Ann Harper Fender’s recent work has involved the economics of the Hudson’s Bay

Company and the Canadian fur trade.

Subject(s):Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Extractive Industries
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):19th Century