EH448      Half Unit
Craft, Human Capital and Innovation in Europe, 1400-1800

This information is for the 2023/24 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Patrick Wallis SAR 511


This course is available on the MSc in Economic History, MSc in Economic History (Research), MSc in Financial History, MSc in Global Economic History and MSc in Political Economy of Late Development. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

This course has a limited number of places (it is controlled access) and demand is expected to be high.  This may mean that you are unable to get a place on this course.

Course content

This course explores how innovation occurs in product, process and technique within a preindustrial artisanal economy. In the three centuries before the industrial revolution, European manufacturing improved markedly. Buildings, clocks, clothing, furniture, art, books, glass, paper and a plethora of other products and industries all show advances in their quality, variety, price and availability. This course examines the nature of this 'Industrial Evolution'. 

The course is divided into two parts. We examine the main mechanisms that have been identified to explain innovation and dissemination: apprenticeship and training; print and codified knowledge; the alliance of early science and craft; clustering, mobility and spillovers. We then explore in depth a set of industry case studies that we use to test the viability of these ideas in different contexts. Each week, the seminar will centre on a set of readings for each topic. The course aims to give students an understanding of the key historical explanations for innovation and the diffusion of ideas, and to connect these to an informed understanding of specific craft industries.


20 hours of seminars in the WT.

Formative coursework

Students are expected to write one essay or equivalent pieces of written work.

Indicative reading

  • Mokyr, Joel (2002), The Gifts of Athena: Historical Origins of the Knowledge Economy (Princeton: Princeton University Press)
  • Finlay, Prak, Maarten, and Patrick Wallis (eds.) (2019), Apprenticeship in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)
  • Prak, Maarten, and Jan Luiten van Zanden (eds.) (2013), Technology, Skills and the Pre-Modern Economy in the East and the West (Leiden: Brill)
  • Kelly, Morgan, and Cormac Ó Gráda. "Connecting the Scientific and Industrial Revolutions: The Role of Practical Mathematics.". Journal of Economic History  (2022).
  • Robert (2010), The Pilgrim Art: Cultures of Porcelain in World History (Berkeley: University of California Press).
  • Landes, David (1983), Revolution in Time: Clocks and the Making of the Modern World (Cambridge MA: Belknap at Harvard University Press)
  • Macfarlane, Alan, and Gerry Martin (2002), Glass: A World History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press).
  • Riello, Giorgio (2013), Cotton: The Fabric that Made the Modern World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press)
  • Schäfer, Dagmar, Giorgio Riello and Luca Molà (eds.) (2018), Threads of Global Desire: Silk in the Pre-Modern World (Woodbridge: Boydell)
  • Smith, Pamela H. (2022), From Lived Experience to the Written Word: Reconstructing Practical Knowledge in the Early Modern World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press)


Essay (100%, 4000 words) in the ST Week 1.

Key facts

Department: Economic History

Total students 2022/23: Unavailable

Average class size 2022/23: Unavailable

Controlled access 2022/23: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

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Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills