CORDIS - EU research results

Did elite human capital trigger the rise of the West? Insights from a new database of European scholars

Project description

A closer look at the development of human capital

Schooling is certainly a strong predictor of economic growth. Upper-tail knowledge allows entrepreneurs in manufacturing to keep up with all the latest technological advances. For instance, developing human capacity, with a focus on technical skills relevant for industry, is key for industrialised countries’ success. The EU-funded UTHC project will determine the role of elite knowledge and upper-tail human capital in the rise of the West between the period 1000 and 1800 CE. The project will study a variety of published source materials to create a geographical grid of the density, composition and quality of upper-tail human capital across time. It will also develop a new theory to understand how codified knowledge and practical skills interact and how ideas spread.


My aim is to determine the role of elite knowledge and upper-tail human capital (UTHC) in triggering the rise of the West. I propose to build a database of a large sample of academic scholars in Europe over the period 1000CE-1800CE. Sources will be primary (published cartularia and matricula), secondary (books on the history of universities & academies), and tertiary (biographical dictionaries). To measure the quality of scholars, these data will be matched with the existing catalogues of publications.

Second, we will build a geographical grid of the density, composition, and quality of the UTHC across time, and correlate the UTHC at the cell level with the adoption of new techniques and better institutions, and the development of literacy, numeracy, and urbanization. The individual character of the data will allow basing causal identification on exogenous variations in the European network of both individuals and universities. The migration pattern of scholars will be used to identify sorting and agglomeration forces, witnessing to the functioning of an academic market in the medieval and early modern periods. Families of scholars will be identified to assess the importance of nepotism vs human capital transmission.

Third, we will develop a new theory of the complementarity between sciences and techniques, to deter-mine the incentives under which codified knowledge and practical skills interact, and ideas spread. A second new theoretical model will be devoted to revealing the dynamic interactions between conservative and modern forces within universities and learned societies; the key trade-off here is between vested interests and new paradigms, letting scholarly elites develop a culture of growth. With the data gathered, we will be able to measure the importance of these theoretical mechanisms and how the UTHC and society interact.

Overall, I intend to rethink economic growth by unraveling the rich interactions between scholars & literati and its emergence.

Host institution

Net EU contribution
€ 1 311 263,00
1348 Louvain La Neuve

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Région wallonne Prov. Brabant Wallon Arr. Nivelles
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Total cost
€ 1 311 263,00

Beneficiaries (1)