Learning About the World
Knowledge of the world was easy to attain in a period when markets were expanding on a limited and local basis, when foreign merchants seemed more like new immigrants than travelers, and when a businessman rarely encountered anyone but those people—always the same—whose language and customs he already understood. Things changed as the economic world began to expand, from the mid-thirteenth century through the first decades of the fourteenth, as a result of new developments in technology and the opening up of new trade routes. As merchants from Florence, Lucca, and Marseilles began to do more business with London, Seville, Genoa, Barcelona, Bremen, and Leipzig, they became increasingly aware of the need to understand foreign environments and adapt to different markets and methods of trading.
Any training the businessman received was inevitably sporadic and incomplete, since the need for such training depended on a person's view of his particular situation. The merchant who was content to travel twice a year from Auxerre to Paris to sell two or three casks of the Auxerre wine that was so popular in the best inns felt quite able to cope with his world. The merchant who traded with half of Europe had a better understanding of how much there was to learn and understand, together with a greater desire to communicate and pass on this useful knowledge.
The merchant received his principal schooling on the job. Nevertheless, there was a role for the teacher who could give instruction in the rudiments of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Such skills were fundamental to any