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About the Book

The European Guilds: An Economic Analysis

Guilds ruled many crafts and trades from the Middle Ages to the Industrial Revolution, and have always attracted debate and controversy. They were sometimes viewed as efficient institutions that guaranteed quality and skills. But they also excluded competitors, manipulated markets, and blocked innovations. Did the benefits of guilds outweigh their costs? Analyzing thousands of guilds that dominated European economies from 1000 to 1880, The European Guilds uses vivid examples and clear economic reasoning to answer that question.

Sheilagh Ogilvie’s book features the voices of honourable guild masters, underpaid journeymen, exploited apprentices, shady officials, and outraged customers, and follows the stories of the “vile encroachers”—women, migrants, Jews, gypsies, bastards, and many others—desperate to work but hunted down by the guilds as illicit competitors. She investigates the benefits of guilds but also shines a light on their dark side. Guilds sometimes provided important services, but they also manipulated markets to profit their members. They regulated quality but prevented poor consumers from buying goods cheaply. They fostered work skills but denied apprenticeships to outsiders. They transmitted useful techniques but blocked innovations that posed a threat. Guilds existed widely not because they corrected market failures or served the common good but because they benefited two powerful groups—guild members and political elites.

Exploring guilds’ inner workings across eight centuries, The European Guilds shows how privileged institutions and exclusive networks shape the wider economy—for good or ill.

About the Author

Sheilagh Ogilvie is Professor of Economic History in Cambridge and a Fellow of the British Academy. She holds degrees from the University of St Andrews (1979), Cambridge (1985), and Chicago (1992). She has been successively Lecturer (1989), Reader (2000), and Professor of Economic History (2004) in the Faculty of Economics at the University of Cambridge.She is the author of State Corporatism and Proto-Industry (Cambridge, 1997), Women, Markets and Social Capital in Early Modern Germany (Oxford, 2003), Institutions and European Trade: Merchant Guilds, 1000-1800 (Cambridge, 2011) and the editor of European Proto-Industrialization (Cambridge, 1996), Germany: A New Social and Economic History (3 vols, London, 1996/2003), and Revolution des Fleißes, Revolution des Konsums? (Ostfildern, 2015). She has published journal articles on institutions and economic development, the economics of guilds, merchants, rural communities, serfdom, consumption, retailing, occupational structure, demography, proto-industry, banking, female labour force participation, regulation, the growth of the state, and social capital.

She is the winner of the Gyorgy Ranki Prize (1999), the Anton Gindeley Prize (2004), the René Kuczynski Prize (2004), and the Stanley Z. Pech Prize (2008). She has been the director of research projects on “Social Structure in Bohemia, 1500-1750” (British Academy, 2001-03), “Economy, Gender, and Social Capital in the German Demographic Transition” (Leverhulme Trust, 2005-07), and “Human Well-Being and the ‘Industrious Revolution’: Consumption, Gender and Social Capital in a German Developing Economy, 1600-1900” (ESRC, 2008-12). She held a British Academy/Wolfson Research Professorship (2013-16), during which she explored the relationship between human capital and long-term economic growth. Her book on the economics of guilds was published with Princeton University Press in March 2019.