Raffaele Danna

Elaboration and Diffusion of Useful Knowledge in the Long Run: The Case of European Practical Arithmetic (13th-16th Centuries)

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Keywords: Commercial revolution, little divergence, human capital, useful knowledge, technical change

The paper discusses the diffusion of Hindu-Arabic numerals in European commercial practices as a case study in the elaboration and transmission of useful knowledge in the pre-modern period. The reconstruction is based on a new dataset recording detailed information on over 1290 practical arithmetic manuals written from the late 13th century to 1600. Qualitative analysis and GIS visualisation tools make it possible to reconstruct a continuous spread of practical arithmetic linking the ‘commercial revolution’ to the European ‘little divergence’. On the one hand, this discussion provides new evidence on the role of useful knowledge in the pre-modern period. On the other hand, it allows to raise new hypotheses on the channels through which useful knowledge spread, and on the dynamics of its economic impact.

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