Prompt: \”How would you account for the emergence of capitalism in Early Modern Europe?\”
This topic is obviously very broad for a 10-page paper. In order to write an effective essay, you will obviously need to organize your thoughts carefully. Above all, you need to be sure that you develop a clear and coherent argument.
Here are some issues you might want to think about before committing your thoughts to paper.
(1) You will have to make it clear what you mean by the term \”capitalism.\” What is a persuasive account of the emergence of capitalism obviously depends on what it is that is emerging. For example, if by capitalism we mean fully monetized trade in pursuit of profit, one could argue that capitalism was already present in the Medieval cities and that its emergence was a gradual process of the growth of monetized trade relative to barter, extra-economic compulsion, or subsistence production, until it became the dominant form of economic activity. If by capitalism we mean the development of mechanized production, one could argue that the crucial question in accounting for its emergence is the particular property, legal, social, political, and economic relations that developed in England in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and made possible the English industrial revolution. Every conceptualization of capitalism (and there are obviously many more possibilities than these two) will mean a different possible range of accounts of its emergence.
(2) You will want to weigh carefully considerations of geographic scope. Are you most impressed with arguments that look carefully at the developments in one or a few nation states, or at arguments that locate capitalism and its development at a global level? Or do you see some intermediate geographical scope as preferable? Why? Can these different geographic scopes be combined into a single argument? How?
(3) You need to consider the advantages of multi-causal vs. mono-causal arguments. (The advantages do not always lie with the multi-causal.) You will also need to think about how you weigh the relative importance of social, geographical, economic, demographic, political, cultural, etc. factors. How do you determine what factors are crucial? Are the same factors crucial at every stage of the story and in every geographical region?
(4) You should be conscious that you are developing a narrative. You need to think carefully about the starting and ending points, about the key events, and about the temporal sequences of events that led from your starting point to your ending point.
(5) You need to think about what evidence you have for your account. We are assuming that you know only what you have read for this course. Whenever you make an important assertion in your argument, ask yourself \”how do I know this?\” and give a citation so we will know where your evidence comes from. We realize that no one will be able to \”prove\” the correctness of their argument, but it is important that the argument be plausibly based on the facts you know.
(6) There is no particular form your argument should take. You could, for example, write a paper that is a sustained argument with one of the authors we have read, or that tries to combine arguments or perspectives of two or more of them, or that moves eclectically from one author to another, or that uses the assigned texts as only as a source of evidence to make an argument of your own. The important thing is that you develop your best argument about why and how capitalism emerged.