My research explores the economic, social and medical history of Britain and Europe from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. At present, I have two main interests:
Apprenticeship and human capital
The supply of skilled labour is one of the fundamental factors in economic performance and growth. And for centuries, apprenticeship was the main way that most people outside of agriculture gained skill. My research aims to understand how apprenticeship worked in England in the three centuries leading up to the industrial revolution.
We know surprisingly little about how apprenticeship operated in practice. Together with my co-author Chris Minns, I have been using very large collections of apprenticeship records from guild and tax sources to provide new insights into the openness, effectiveness and outcomes of apprenticeship training in London and other parts of Britain. By looking beyond the legal framework, we have uncovered a more flexible and accessible system of training than historians used to believe.
Now we are extending this work in a comparative project, as part of an EU-funded study bEUcitizen, that examines citizenship across Europe from 1600 to 1900.
The transformation of healthcare in early modern England
Between the sixteenth and the nineteenth century, the English people profoundly changed their response to ill health. Previously, they had relied on their families and communities. Now they increasingly turned to commercial providers: they learned to pay doctors, buy medicines, and hire nurses.
My research is exploring how and why this transformation in healthcare occurred. By using a range of sources – from the debts left by the dying to the customs records of drug imports – I am uncovering the timing and nature of this change, showing the massive growth in the use of commercial drugs and the frequency that people sought help from medical practitioners.
View Professor Wallis's CV here [PDF]