An Economic History of England: the 18th Century

An Economic History of England: the 18th Century

An Economic History of England: the 18th Century

An Economic History of England: the 18th Century

Excerpt

The five volumes that are to make up this History will offer a survey of the centuries from the early Middle Ages to our own day. The area concerned is England: references to Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and other countries are introduced only for purposes of comparison. The authors are not professional economists, but their object is to find answers (partial and provisional though these must be) to the questions economists ask, or should ask, of the past. If, being human, they turn now and then to wider issues their observations on these are incidental to the main purpose. And if some topics admittedly of an economic nature are treated lightly, that is in some cases because our knowledge is limited, but in others because they have been dealt with adequately elsewhere. The object is to supplement and extend, rather than to supplant, existing, well-known treatises.

All historical writing that is worth while must be individual: no attempt is made at uniformity of treatment. But the volumes are the product, not only of personal research, but also of discussion in seminars and of gossip in common rooms and corridors. They may be thought of as representing the way in which the subject has been taught, in recent years, at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

This first contribution to the series will disappoint many readers. I have deliberately laid stress on the continuity of economic life in the eighteenth century and have said little of technological change, of the policies and ideas of the period, or of modern reconstructions of these enshrined in such words as Capitalism, Mercantilism, and Imperialism. I confess to distaste for these imprecise terms, which seem to me to have blurred, rather than sharpened, our vision of the past. A few months ago, indeed, in an Oxford common room, I boasted that no single word ending in 'ism' would be found in this book. 'Not even "baptism"?' asked one of my hosts, in that gentle way they have of deflating you at Oxford. The proofs had not yet been returned to the publisher: it would have been easy to substitute 'christening'; but I decided to leave the offensive syllables as a warning to myself against vain glory.

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