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The extent to which capitalism has increased or decreased inequality has generated significant debate from the 18th century onwards. The capitalist system allows people to derive income and wealth from assets that they own. The most valuable assets are those that are scarce. For 18th- and early 19th-century classical economists such as Smith and Mill good quality agricultural land was the scarce asset and therefore the most important source of income and wealth (Smith, 1791; Mill, 1848). However, from the mid-19th century onwards, in the light of the Industrial Revolution, Marx and neoclassical economists emphasized the importance of capital with which to purchase machinery and factory buildings, and finance inventory (Marx, 1961). Gradually skills possessed by the individual moved to the fore. The second Industrial Revolution in the US emphasized the desirability of skill in organizing large businesses and trusts and in foretelling the future through speculation (Hayek, 1949; Kirzner, 1973). Scarcity factors have become more intangible over time. From the 1930s onwards ‘knowledge’ as possessed by professional managers and scientist became a value asset (Harper, 1995). Finally, from the 1970s onwards, entrepreneurship began to be recognized as a scarce factor. The change in emphasis on scarce assets had the potential to remove the inequality that had existed whereby income and wealth were concentrated in the hands of large landowners.

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Historical Perspectives: 1200–2000

This ambitious collection follows the evolution of capitalism from its origins in 13th-century European towns to its 16th-century expansion into Asia, Africa and South America and on to the global capitalism of modern day.

Written by distinguished historians and social scientists, the chapters examine capitalism and its critics and the level of variation and convergence in its operation across locations. The authors illuminate the aspects of capitalism that have encouraged, but also limited, social responsibility and environmental sustainability.

Covering times, places and topics that have often been overlooked in the existing literature, this important contribution to the field of economic history charts the most comprehensive chronology of capitalism to date.

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Capitalism is a topic with many thematic strands and both geographical and chronological dimensions. As a result, its definition and interpretation have generated a significant amount of discussion. Regarding thematic strands, some scholars have focused on the political dimension, for example, and others the financial (including Hall and Soskice, 2001; Murphy, 2009; Neal and Williamson, 2014; Piketty, 2014; Kocka, 2016; Banaji, 2020; Lipartito and Jacobson, 2020). Assessments of capitalism’s impact are also diverse. While aiding economic growth for some sectors and individuals, significant questions remain regarding the extent to which capitalism has had a positive or negative impact on society as a whole (Piketty, 2014; Beckert, 2015; Lipartito and Jacobson, 2020; Yazdani and Menon, 2020). It is generally accepted that to understand capitalism fully we should situate it in a wider historical context (Cain and Hopkins, 1986). Marx’s analysis of capitalism went back to the Middle Ages, although his primary focus was on the 19th century. Sombart (1927) proposed that a capitalist spirit originated in medieval rulers, administrators, noble estate owners and military leaders, and was disseminated from them to the wider population. Braudel and Britnell saw the Middle Ages as an important step in the transition from a market economy to a later capitalist one. Examining 1000–1500, Britnell (1993) used the concept of commercialization to describe economic transformation that led to urbanization, entrepreneurship and the provision of a strong institutional framework.

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This volume has proposed that the evolution of capitalism was connected to the emergence of five distinct economic functions: entrepreneurship, finance, management, workers and political leaders. Some functions emerged as more dominant in particular locations and periods, and other functions in different locations and periods. Thus capitalism can be seen as a series of evolutions rather than a single one. This chapter will review the evidence in the book that informs on selected aspects of these functions. It will then highlight two key takeaways from the volume: geographical dimensions and values and beliefs. Finally, directions for future research will be proposed. The book has reinforced the importance of situating capitalism in a wider historical context. Chapter 2 proposed that the modern market economy developed in 13th-century European towns and was stimulated by local and national regulation. Building on that analysis, Chapter 3 argued that during the 16th and 17th centuries elements of a shared philosophy pertaining to markets and their place in society can be identified in Continental Europe. Key themes were monetary regulation, customs and trade policies aimed at nurturing certain industries or branches of economy that were considered vital for the common good, and market regulation, in particular of urban product markets. These strategies and philosophies of market were invented, applied and modified centuries before modern capitalism, but were an importance influence on it.

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The Cambridge Hundred Rolls Source Volume

One of the most important manuscripts surviving from thirteenth-century England, the corpus of documents known as the Hundred Rolls for Cambridge have been incomplete until the recent discovery of an additional roll.

This invaluable volume replaces the previous inaccurate transcription by the record commission of 1818 and provides new translations and additional appendices.

Shedding new light on important facets of business activity in thirteenth-century Cambridge, this volume makes a significant contribution to our knowledge of the early phases of capitalism.

This unique text will be of interest to anyone working in the fields of economic and business history, entrepreneurship, philanthropy and medieval studies.

A research monograph based on recently discovered historical documents, Compassionate Capitalism: Business and Community in Medieval England, by Casson et al, is also now available from Bristol University Press.

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This volume provides a translation from the original of the Hundred Rolls for Cambridge, TNA SC5/CAMBS/TOWER/1, Parts 1–3 and Barnwell SC5/CAMBS/TOWER/2. Each part corresponds to a particular roll. The rolls are in reasonably good condition, although some of the text is darkened and a few small portions of text (indicated in the translation by a row of dots) are missing.

The transcriptions from which the translation was made were checked against the Record Commission edition, with the exception of Cambridge part 3, which was not available to the Commission. The sequencing of the responses to the enquiry makes it clear that part 3 actually follows part 1 and precedes part 2. However, we have retained the sequence used by TNA to avoid confusion and to maintain correspondence with the Record Commission edition. The fact that it was the middle roll rather than the final roll that was missing probably explains why the omission was not recognized until fairly recently.

Each item (or paragraph) has been given a reference number. The use of reference numbers simplifies the referencing of the rolls in the main text of the book, and it should be of value to future researchers. Some numbers are prefaced by a letter. No letter signifies an individual property or a pair of linked properties (e.g. a messuage with land attached, or a pair of adjacent messuages). A preface R indicates a stream of rental income; P indicates a portfolio of properties where only the total rent is given and individual rents are difficult to impute; A indicates that there is no information on either location or rent; and F indicates contextual information that is not directly relevant to specific properties.

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The Rotuli Hundredorum, better known as the Hundred Rolls, contain 1,800 pages of statistical information relating to property rents in c.1279 for King Edward I. A printed edition was published by the Record Commission in 1818, using the original medieval Latin, in a special typeface designed to replicate the abbreviated script of medieval scribes. It is this edition that has formed the basis for most (though not all) subsequent research on property holding at that time.

The geographical coverage of the rolls is incomplete, and Cambridge has better coverage than almost all other towns of similar size in England. Frederic Maitland pioneered statistical analysis of the Hundred Rolls in the appendix to his book Township and Borough, published in 1898. Cambridge, however, has been misunderstood. In the early 20th century its history was extensively studied by members of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society and its predecessor organizations, including distinguished scholars such as Gray and Stokes. These scholars, like Maitland, were unaware that the coverage of Cambridge by the Record Commission was incomplete. The first and last rolls were included by the Commission, giving an impression of completeness, but the middle roll was omitted. This additional roll did not come to light until quite recently. This volume provides a new edition of the Hundred Rolls for Cambridge, including the previously unpublished roll. It also provides appendixes of new translations of untranslated sources that reveal the history of the properties recorded in the Hundred Rolls and the families who owned them. A companion monograph, analysing the contents of the rolls, has also been published by the authors with Bristol University Press.

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Business and Community in Medieval England

It may seem like a recent trend, but businesses have been practising compassionate capitalism for nearly a thousand years.

Based on the newly discovered historical documents on Cambridge’s sophisticated urban property market during the Commercial Revolution in the thirteenth century, this book explores how successful entrepreneurs employed the wealth they had accumulated to the benefit of the community.

Cutting across disciplines, from economic and business history to entrepreneurship, philanthropy and medieval studies, this outstanding volume presents an invaluable contribution to our knowledge of the early phases of capitalism.

A companion book, The Cambridge Hundred Rolls Sources Volume, replacing the previous incomplete and inaccurate transcription by the Record Commission of 1818, is also available from Bristol University Press.

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This chapter sets out the key research questions addressed in the book. These concern the role of English towns in the commercial revolution that was underway in the thirteenth century. There is a particular focus on the medieval property market, and on the citizens who were active in that market. The chapter reviews previous literature, and explains the choice of Cambridge as a case study. This choice is largely dictated by a unique source of information, namely the Cambridge Hundred Rolls, which are also described in this chapter. The Hundred Rolls date to 1279, but the origins of the town were much earlier. The early history of the town is set out, so that the context of the Hundred Rolls can be fully understood.

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Chapter 2 investigates the significance of the property market in medieval Cambridge. It considers how far the property market at this time anticipated the urban property markets of today. Detailed information on the Cambridge property market is provided in the Hundred Rolls. A unique feature of the Rolls, compared to other sources such as rentals, is that they record all the rents paid on a property and not just the rent paid to one particular lord, such as the king or local lay lord. The rolls show that many properties paid multiple rents. With full information on each of these rents it possible to analyse separately the total rent paid and the various components of this rent going to individual lords. Chapter 2 introduces the statistical methods required to address these issues and reports the results obtained by applying them.

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