The knowledge economy. Innovation, productivity and economic growth, 13th to 18th century
The LIII Settimana invites research papers on how organizational, technological, and scientific innovations spurred productivity gains and economic growth from the thirteenth through eighteenth centuries. Can the paradigms and theories that have emerged to explain how the knowledge economy stimulated the Industrial Revolution be usefully applied to the pre-modern period? To what extent can we identify ‘useful knowledge’ (Simon Kuznets) as a source of economic growth? What kinds of cultural, economic, and institutional structures provided the most hospitable environment for the application of scientific knowledge to innovations that promoted competition, efficiency, quality, specialization, tools, access to information, and other measures of productivity? The LIII Settimana will reflect on these relationships as well as their influence on the recovery capacity of European medieval and early modern societies after demographic, economic, and military crises.
Scholars have pointed to the substantial transformations that occurred in ‘useful knowledge’ in the late medieval and early modern period, but in assessing the impact of these transformations on economic growth, they have tended to highlight institutional and social contexts more than technological innovations. Assumptions about the slower diffusion of scientific knowledge and ideas in the pre-modern era also need rethinking since the pre-modern era was not a homogenous whole. Could the relatively quick economic recovery after the epidemic crises in the second half of the fourteenth century have been related to the spread of technical and commercial knowledge? Similarly, the relationship between the increasingly intensive commercialization of the sixteenth century and the growing attraction of natural philosophers to the practical difficulties of agriculture and industry needs further investigation. The Knowledge Revolution of the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries has been linked, moreover, to the (Second) Commercial Revolution and framed as a prerequisite to the Industrial Revolution.
These issues are at the centre of the Datini Study Week, which invites scholars to analyze the relationship of the knowledge economy to innovations, productivity, and economic growth in the pre-modern period (13th–18th centuries) by considering the following questions: How was ‘useful knowledge’ transmitted among individuals, across space, and over generations? How could commercial and industrial productivity be associated with the expansion of such knowledge? When and where was useful knowledge amassed in such a way that a relatively great number of innovations and inventions could touch off revolutionary breakthroughs in particular sectors of the economy? The Study Week will make a decisive contribution to our understanding of the knowledge economy as a fundamental element in the development of technology, industry, and commerce in pre-modern Europe.
a) What can be regarded as ‘useful knowledge’?
b) How was ‘useful knowledge’ generated, learned, and transmitted?
c) How was the expansion of knowledge linked to productivity?
d) The (intellectual) ‘property rights’ of innovators/inventors
a) Innovations and inventions as basis of revolutionary breakthroughs in particular sectors of the economy
b) Were there periods when and places where innovation and inventions were more prevalent and especially influenced economic growth?
c) Small “Industrial Revolutions” in pre-industrial times?
d) The “Industrial Enlightenment” as the key to the modern economy of Western Europe?
a) How did innovations influence economic growth?
b) How did cultural and institutional processes influence labour productivity?
c) How did knowledge contribute to reducing risks?
d) Was there a specific Western European “culture of growth”?