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Sailing into Modernity: Comparative Perspectives on the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century European Economic Transition


This research project analyses the economic transition in Early Modern Europe through an innovative and interdisciplinary approach that will employ tools from legal, economic and social history for the comparative analysis of the legal position and the economic treatment of sailors active in the Mediterranean. Since Fernand Braudel coined the expression ‘invasion of the northerners’, the subject of how English and Dutch shipping overtook local Mediterranean powers has been a classic topic of economic history. But due to the poor survival of traditional economic documentation for this period, we still know little about the details of how this happened in practice, and existing debates are stalling because of a lack of detailed comparative research. This project offers the opportunity to move these debates forward by analysing alternative documentary evidence (from judicial and notarial archives), which allows considerable methodological advances through the detailed comparative analysis of the protagonists’ trading strategies. It is a central contention of this project that legal and financial differences in the treatment of crews were one of the crucial factors in the success of northern European economies in their commercial penetration of the Mediterranean, a necessary step in their struggle for global hegemony. A comparative approach to the study of wage controversies in four European economies which had a strong maritime sector – Italy, England, France, Netherlands – will bring new light on the everyday legal cases with which international commercial law was being formulated on the ground, and with an interesting new perspective of the effect of economic activities on the development of legal institutions. These topics have also a strong connection to contemporary issues such as how a mature economy (the early modern Italian) reacted to a structural crisis and the aggressive competition of rising economic and political powers (England, United Provinces).

Call for proposal

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The queen's drive northcote house
EX4 4QJ Exeter
United Kingdom

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South West (England) Devon Devon CC
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Administrative Contact
Samantha Irish (Ms.)
Principal investigator
Maria Fusaro (Dr.)
EU contribution
No data

Beneficiaries (1)