By Peter Musgrave
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Extra info for The Early Modern European Economy
What was being studied was not the specific features of a particular situation but rather a set of more general rules of economic development. More recently, economic historians have abandoned, at least overtly, the idea of elucidating general rules and general patterns of development. They seek rather to explain the particular structures and particular circumstances of the early modern economy, how they worked and how they gave rise to the situations which developed out of them. They stress the particular nature of the early modern situation, perhaps even its uniqueness, rather than its applicability as a universal paradigm to all possible economic situations and circumstances.
13 It is not only in the modern Third World that this definition of ownership was foreign; it was as foreign over much of early modern Europe. If it had not been, the work of Joseph II or the agrarian reforms of the French Revolution would have been much easier. 14 This diffuseness of ownership in most of continental Europe because of the legal framework of feudalism is important for the present discussion in two ways. The rural population was not simply at the mercy of landlords; tenants, even 'landless labourers', did have some potential 42 The Early Modern European Economy for choice in their economic activities.
In the 1980s and 1990s the former dominance of the older interpretations has been increasingly challenged. In part this change has been a result of the accumulation of more and more evidence. Much more importantly, it has been a consequence of wider changes in perceptions and approaches in history, in economics and also, and perhaps most importantly, in the wider world. It is important that the older interpretations should not be rejected because they were based on theories and assumptions which reflect an earlier stage of the development of ideas and perceptions only to be replaced by newer interpretations which are claimed to be more scientific.