An Introduction to Economic History
Email this review


 A scholarly, entertaining look at the objectives and techniques of economic historiography. Cipolla (Economics and History/Berkeley) explains that economic historians must rely on business and political documents and other numismatic, artistic, and cultural evidence contemporary to the period they are studying, but cannot take such data at face value. Because of human error, purposeful falsification of records for a wide variety of motives, and lack of emphasis in certain cultures on precise record-keeping, the economic historian must play sleuth. In addition, Cipolla summarizes the myriad sources of economic history--including warehouse accounts, tax receipts, customs registers, legislative sources, contemporary statistical compilations, foreign intelligence reports, church records. Indeed, he shows, the most mundane residue from vanished societies (records of baptisms, legal records, deeds of gift, etc.) can provide the economic historian with valuable information. Cipolla argues convincingly that the modern community of economic historians, in its emphasis on purely mathematical analyses of economic aspects, has put too much distance between itself and purely historical scholarship. While recognizing that economic history investigates economic phenomena, he argues persuasively that economic history is a distinctly historical enterprise that uses tools different from those of economics to answer distinctly different questions. Cipolla's presentation of economic history as a humanistic rather than scientific discipline makes economic historiography seem fascinating and rather fun.

Pub Date: July 29th, 1991
ISBN: 0-393-02977-8
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 1991