The history of the Low Countries in the pre-industrial period yields a wealth of information on social and economic change. This program brings together Dutch and Flemish scholars working on different aspects of the economy and society of the Low Countries in the pre-industrial period, to exchange and combine their findings in a comprehensive framework, and to put forward the economic and social history of the Low Countries as a principal case-study in international debates on economic and social change in pre-industrial Europe.
The basic assumption of the program is that the growth and development of the economy of the Low Countries before 1850 resulted from the interaction between available means of production, institutions and social relations - the latter referring both to social stratification and to the ability of (groups of) economic actors to appropriate the available means of production and/or change prevailing institutions to their advantage. The distinction between these factors, leads to three major fields of research:
- The reconstruction of the real economy is concerned with changes in the production and technology in agriculture, industry, and trade. This field of research encompasses present research on the development of international trade and rural industry, the determinants of technological change, early modern entrepreneurship, and women's labour. Moreover, research will include the development of both rural-urban and regional interaction within the Low Countries, and the measurement of economic performance through a reconstruction of national accounts from the 15th century onwards.
- Research on institutional change is concerned with the influence of legal, economic, social and political institutions on economic performance before 1850. This part of the program will focus on the institutions used by merchants in domestic and long-distance trade, on the organisation of production in agriculture and industry, and on the formation of markets for capital, labour, and land since medieval times.
- Research on social relations seeks to explore the social stratification and political economy of the Low Countries. Principal themes are corporatism, public finance, and the process of state formation - all of which are being researched intensively already. The interplay between social relations and economic growth will also be highlighted through research on the provision of public goods like military protection, water management, education, transport facilities, and poor relief.
The program unites scholars from almost every major research institution in the Low Countries. Besides, the program seeks the active participation of graduate students and historians who are now working outside these research institutions but still investigate themes that are at the core of the program.
The economy of the Low Countries is a principal case study in the international debate on economic growth and development before 1850. Indeed, many scholars interested in the present program already actively participate in this debate through congress papers, research programs, and international publications. What's more, many of these scholars take part in international networks on prices and wages, rural history (e.g. 'Comparative Rural History of the North Sea Area' (CORN) in which the Low Countries play a key role), craft guilds, the history of the Baltic and North Sea, and other early modern themes. Therefore, the program can set very specific goals for the period 2004-2008:
- - to further stimulate interaction between Flemish and Dutch scholars (and graduate students!) in order to discuss their work on the economy and society of the Low Countries, and position it in debates on the European economy before 1850;
- - to further stimulate and facilitate scholarly exchange with foreign colleagues;
- - to support and stimulate the participation of Flemish and Dutch scholars in international networks, workshops, and conferences;
- - to support and/or co-ordinate fundraising for research in the economic and social history of the Low Countries before 1850.
First, annual workshops with selected Dutch, Flemish, and foreign scholars will be held to compare the Dutch case with other European countries. Anticipating these meetings, Utrecht University has hosted an international workshop on the Political Economy of the Dutch Republic in April 2003, which stands as a perfect example of the integration of different fields of research. In 2004, the program chairs will organize the first Flemish-Dutch conference on the economic and social history of the Low Countries before 1850. Future workshops might include "Financial Institutions and Economic Growth", and "The Provision of Public Goods". Besides these workshops the program will actively stimulate the organization of (comparative) sessions on the abovementioned themes within the framework of various international congresses on social and economic history. Furthermore, the program will organize regular presentations of work in progress, as part of the well-established seminars in economic and social history held at IISH, the Free University of Amsterdam, Utrecht University, and possibly also Flemish universities. Final, to reach the widest possible audience, the program will start an on-line series of working papers in the Economic and Social History of the Low Countries in the pre-industrial period.
Bruno Blondé (University of Antwerp) and Oscar Gelderblom (International Institute of Social History/Utrecht University) will chair the research program.