Early Modern Economy and Colonization - Europe
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Early Modern Economy

middle-aged fat white men in dark suits
Members of the painters' guild in Haarlem (1670s)

In the Renaissance, as cities grew all over Europe and more people began to buy things in stores instead of making them at home, many cities and towns developed a system of guilds that controlled who could make things and how. In France and England and Switzerland, this guild system began to break down in the 1600s. Women forced their way into the guilds, and more and more businesses began to operate outside the guild system. But in Germany, the guilds remained strong. The guilds wouldn't let women work in manufacturing, and continued to keep up many other rules as well. This made the guild members richer, but it wasn't good for the German economy generally. France, England, the Netherlands and Switzerland, with more freedom and less regulation, became richer than Germany.

sailing ship
British sailing ship (1600s)

At the same time, France and England began to get richer by exploiting people in other parts of the world. European traders captured and brought home wealth that had previously belonged to people in the Americas, Africa, India, and South Asia. British colonists took big trees from North America and sold them to traders to build wooden ships; in these ships, British traders sailed to India and bought cotton cloth, glass beads, and steel knives. From India they sailed to Africa and traded the cloth and beads and knives for enslaved people. Traders brought the slaves on those same wooden ships to the Caribbean islands to grow sugar, and they sold the sugar in Europe. People in India, Africa, and the Americas got poorer, while a few rich Europeans got richer. Still, most Europeans spent their whole lives farming their land, and they were still poor.

Learn by doing: string some Indian beads from a bead store
More about the European economy in the 1700s

Bibliography and further reading about the European economy:

More about the European economy in the 1700s
Modern Europe
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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