Category Archives: 1870-1914

Visit to the Silk Museum and Paradise Mill in Macclesfield

As readers of this blog know, I take every year my economic history students to the Quarry Bank Mill near Manchester: a large and important cotton factory of the First Industrial Revolution.

But of course, the Manchester region also had other clusters, such as pottery cluster in Stoke-on-Trent (affectionately known as “The Potteries”), and a silk cluster in the region of Macclesfield (where a couple of modern silk-related factories in fact still operate today).

So, in a recent weekend, I visited the Silk Museum and Paradise Mill in Macclesfield. The Paradise Mill had its origins in the early nineteenth century and operated until the 1980s. Visiting was a great experience, and I share some pictures here.

The raw input:

Some general info:

Making the punch cards. These binary instructions define the patterns, and of course influenced modern computers:

An example of the resulting pattern (notice the small upper-left square):

Notice how detailed and fine this could become:

The machines:

The “code” and resulting pattern in a pillow:

Feeding the “code”:

Girls lost the power

The explanatory power to explain the historical Western European Litte Divergence, that is.

The paper:

Historical gender discrimination does not explain comparative Western European development: evidence from Portugal, 1300-1900

by Jaime Reis, Lisbeth Rodrigues and mysef, is now forthcoming at Explorations in Economic History. We show that women’s relative social and economic position was no worse in Portugal than in Northwestern European countries, hence the cause of Portugal’s development failure lies elsewhere. I’ve previously discussed this paper here and here, and we wrote this voxeu column about it as well.

The Little Divergence was the economic and political divergence that characterized the relative decline of southern Europe, which was clear by 1800. Spain and Portugal, previously some of the Europe’s richest regions, were in clear decline for a while, and at the same time Northwestern Europe was was growing and would industrialize fast in the first half of the nineteenth century.

Jan Luiten van Zanden and co-authors have for years argued that there was an “horizontal Hajnal line”: the south of Europe, they argue, had social norms at the family level which did not lead to a strong European Marriage Pattern like Northwestern Europe did, where it encouraged human capital accumulation and having other benefits. This is known as the Girl Power hypothesis, after a well-known 2010 EHR paper by Tine de Moor and van Zanden. Him and co-authors have continued to argue along these lines in recent years, including in a major book. In a recent article, called “Two Worlds of Female Labor”, Sandra de Pleijt and Jan Luiten van Zanden argued that “In the south of Europe women earned about 50 per cent of the wage of unskilled male labourers, a ratio that seems to have been fixed by custom”, while this ratio was higher in Northern Europe.

But in fact it wasn’t. Tracy Dennison and Sheilagh Ogilvie in 2014 ahd already pointed out that the regions of Europe where the EMP measured by age of marriage was strongest did not in fact growh more, and Drelichman and Agudo in a recent paper about Toldeo (Spain) showed that gender wage gaps there in fact were comparable to those of northwestern Europe. Our evidence for Portugal confirms this as well.

Sorry, Jan Luiten & co-authors, but the Dutch were not culturally special, as you think. They were just western europeans like all the others. This is of course not to deny that the EMP and relative equality of women – as compared with other parts of the world – in Europe was not an advantage: it must have been. But this must be endogenous to other factors, and cannot explain first-order differences in economic sucess within Western Europe: The Little Divergence. In Western Europe, the main way women were discriminated against concerned the range of professions that they were allowed to take. The same situation also occurred in Northwestern Europe, including the North Sea area, and there is no evidence that it did so to a lower degree than elsewhere in Western Europe.

If family-level cultural factors or social norms do not explain the Little Divergence, then something else needs to. As readers of this blog may know, to me the true explanation resides in political institutions, which worsened in Spain and Portugal over the early modern period (at different times), but in both cases due to a resource curse problem.

Sources: see our text.

Gender wage gaps for unskilled workers (f/m), 1271-1900:

Sources: see our text.

A Short History of the Bank of England: Dan Snow’s History Hit podcast

You can hear my participation in Dan Snow’s History Hit podcast here. Thanks to Dan for the invitation.

For anyone interested in knowing more, this is the paper (joint with Patrick O’Brien) recently published in the EHR and motivated this participation, available in open access here. This was the main paper underlying our discussion, though in the podcast Dan and I also discuss monetary politcy and the role of central banks in more recent times.

p.s. I heard the recording and take the opportunity to mention that around minute 17.43, when I say “sixteenth century”, I obviously meant to say “eighteenth century”. And just before the break when I said “lending”, I meant “borrowing”: though this should be clear from the context. That was my fault of course: perils of live recordings!

Pictures of the “Economic Consequences of the Age of Liberal Revolutions, 1810-1848” conference

We had a great conference last week (despite a lamentable boycotting attempt). At least I enjoyed a lot learning from and discussing with colleagues, and I believe others did too.

Given Deirdre McCloskey’s visit to Lisbon for this conference, she and I also debated in the day prior to the conference at an event organized by “Instituto +Liberdade”. That too was a fun event, and it was interesting to see how much of a statist I am – at least by comparison with Deirdre! (who has been my friend for 15 years, and from whom I have learned so much). The discussion illustrated what I already knew: that Deirde is a good old-fashioned classical liberal while if I must quickly summarize my political views, I’d say I lie about half way between classical liberalism and social democracy (with the distance to each depending on the topics). There will be a video of the debate, which I’ll post here when made available by the organizers.

Here are the photos from both events, with a focus on the academic conference:

Conference dinner – most participants ate grilled sardines!
Leandro Prados de la Escosura and António Castro Henriques both could not attend in person last minute due to personal reasons, so presented via Zoom instead
Maria Stella Chiaruttini presenting “Fateful and forgotten: Liberal revolutions and financial development in nineteenth-century Italy”
Guillaume Daudin presenting “The effects of the revolution and warfare on the French economy, 1789-1815” (joint with Loic Charles and Silvia Marzagalli)
Nuno Palma presenting “Anatomy of a premodern state” (joint work with L. Costa and A. Henriques)
Roundtable with Luciano Amaral (Nova SBE), Maria Stella Chiaruttini (University of Vienna), Guillaume Daudin (Université Paris Dauphine), Deirdre McCloskey (University of Illinois at Chicago)
Renato Pistola presenting “From good intentions to institutional failure: Portugal, 1834-1891” (joint with N. Palma)
Arnaud Deseau presenting “The most important event? The long-run impact of the dissolution of the French monasteries”
Arnaud Deseau presenting “The most important event? The long-run impact of the dissolution of the French monasteries”
José Luís Barbosa presenting “The liberal reforms and the Portuguese municipality: the case of Coimbra (1790-1850)”
José Luís Barbosa presenting “The liberal reforms and the Portuguese municipality: the case of Coimbra (1790-1850)”
Guilherme Lambais presenting “Living standards in Imperial Brazil” (joint with N. Palma)
Deirdre McCloskey’s closing address, “Liberalism Caused the Great Enrichment”
Deirdre McCloskey’s closing address, “Liberalism Caused the Great Enrichment”
Another picture from the conference dinner
On the day prior to the conference, Deirdre McCloskey and Nuno Palma debated at “Instituto +Liberdade”
Debate of the day prior to the conference
Debate organized by “Instituto +Liberdade” the day prior to the conference, taking place at “42 Lisboa”. Thanks to Pedro Santa Clara for introducing Deirdre McCloskey and me to the audience!

Interview to Atlantico

Here’s the transcript, in English, of a recent interview I gave to the French media Atlantico, concerning this paper (joint work with Jaime Reis and Lisbeth Rodrigues).

The interview concerns the causes of the Little and Great Divergences, with particular attention to the “Girl Power” hypothesis. (A recent VoxEU column is also available in this link.)

My French is not great so I responded in English. I copy below the responses that I sent them.

In your study “Historical gender discrimination does not explain comparative Western European development”, you mention the fact that the slow economic growth of south-western Europe since the Middle Ages is often attributed to the lesser influence of women compared to northern countries such as England or the Netherlands. Where do we find such statements? Why is this explanation so common?

Around 1900, Global Inequality between countries was at an all-time high. Most of Europe and its offshoots (such and the USA and Australia) had been growing systematically for a long time, while much of the rest of the world had not, including the largest regions by population like China and India.

In the prior centuries, from the late Middle Ages until the early Twentieth Century, the world had witnessed two important economic divergences. One was the Great Divergence: how the richer parts of Europe (e.g. England) became much richer than the richer parts of the rest of the world (e.g. the Yangtze Delta). And even the poorer parts of Europe became considerably richer than the poorer parts of the rest of the world.

The other was the Little Divergence: how the richer parts of Europe (Northwestern Europe) became much richer than the poorest parts of Europe (Southern and Eastern Europe).

There are different explanations in the literature for why these divergences happened. One explanation is cultural, and states that there is a particular “European” way of thinking and acting, and one manifestation of this was comparatively high female agency and an original European Marriage Pattern (EMP), which can be characterized by later female first marriage ages than other parts of the world, a relatively high celibacy rate, and marriages that were monogamous, exogamous, based on consensus and neo-locality. Regardless of the ultimate cause of these cultural behaviors — I personally believe that political institutions are jointly determined with and can shape culture over time and not just the opposite – it does seem undeniable that there was particular, individualist, comparatively liberal way of thinking and acting in Europe, coming from the Middle Ages already – an European culture, if you will.

This European culture was reflected in comparatively high female agency, by contrast with most other parts of the world. It was, in particular, Western European: the first to propose the EMP was a Hungarian scholar, John Hajnal, who in 1965 proposed what is now known as the Hajnal line: an imaginary line running between Saint Petersburg and Trieste, to the West of which the EMP operated. A good book to understand the deep origins of a Western European mentality and political culture is in my view Siedentop’s Inventing the individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism.

Concerning the Little Divergence, one well-known and increasingly popular explanation for it, associated in particular with Jan Luiten van Zanden and his multiple co-authors, is essentially that Southwestern/Mediterranean Europe was not really part of Western Europe in this EMP sense. According to this explanation, the lower female agency which characterized regions such as Spain, Portugal, or even south France and south Italy explain their comparative underdevelopment. Women, this literature claims, married early, had high fertility (with consequences for low human capital accumulation, of themselves and their children), did not participate in the labor market as much as elsewhere, and faced comparatively high gender wage gaps, which were supposedly determined by social norms, not market forces. A related literature also exists which splits Europe in religious terms, for instance Joseph Henrich argues that the EMP was stronger in Protestant regions of Europe.

What we’ve done in our present paper was show this was not, empirically, the case. Culturally, something we can call “Western Europe” did exist, with variations within, but these differences could not be first-order to explain the Little Divergence. Dennison and Ogilvie had already shown in fact that the parts of Europe where the EMP were historically stronger were not the most successful in a development sense.

But let me be clear. The evidence does not support the view that the Southern or Catholic part of Western Europe discriminated against women more, but it does largely support Hajnal’s original point that there is such a thing as a “Western European” culture reflected in high female agency and the EMP, among other aspects. In the long run, this may have been a key advantage of Western Europe relative to other parts of the world. In this sense my disagreement with Jan Luiten van Zanden – a scholar for whom I have the utmost respect – is only partial.

One of your conclusions is that economic development fosters the improvement of women rights and not the over way round. Is that the explanation for usual misreading of the situation?

The usual explanation – most associated with Jan Luiten van Zanden and his co-authors –  is that the high female agency was a cause of development: the regions of Europe that had it grew more. We are pointing out that, within Western Europe, there were not important historical differences in female agency. Consequently the differences in rights that emerged – mostly only visible only by the early Twentieth century and for the most part gone by the late 1970s – were more in fact a consequence of differential development.

You’ve compared the discrimination against woman in several countries, including, Portugal, England, Netherlands, etc. You’ve found no significant differences in the discrimination towards women. How do you measure that?

We rely on a new dataset of thousands of observations from archival sources covering six centuries, and we complement it with a qualitative discussion of comparative social norms. Compared with Northwestern Europe, women in Portugal faced similar gender wage gaps, married at similar ages, and did not face more restrictions to labor market participation.

What are the influences of the European Marriage Pattern (EMP) according to your findings? 

Please see above

You write that “an explanation for the growing income inequality between European countries during the early modern period, especially from the mid-seventeenth century onward – the ‘Little Divergence’ – must be found elsewhere” than gender discrimination. Do you have leads on what might be the explicative factor?

As I mentioned, by the late Middle Ages Western Europe was characterized by an individualist culture that was jointly determined with representative and even proto-democratic political institutions. Parliaments, the judiciary, and the independent power of the Church led to checks and balances to executive power in a way that was particularly Western European and absent from all other parts of the world. Scholars such as Acemoglu and Robinson believe that the Crowns of Spain and Portugal were absolutist already around 1500, but the evidence does not in fact support this claim. Instead, the evidence suggests that Iberia [later] suffered from a resource curse. Note that the second country to have an Industrial Revolution was [Catholic] Belgium, and France followed shortly afterwards. At the same time, Italy and Germany were able to industrialize quickly once they unified politically, in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Measuring the Great Divergence: a study of global standards of living, 1500-1950

I’m delighted to announce that I have been awarded a ESRC New Investigators grant for the project: “Measuring the Great Divergence: a study of global standards of living, 1500-1950”. A call for a postdoc will open soon. In this thread I briefly give details about the project. Stay to end for some juice about Portugal’s funding agency, FCT, which had twice rejected a similar proposal of mine previously (and for less money, €250K instead of the £300K that I was now awarded).

We will use archives in Portugal and its former colonial sites to collect five centuries of real wages and welfare ratios. We will focus on locations such as Luanda in Angola, the Mozambique island, Goa in India, and Macao. We will know their comparative development and inequality levels over time.

Our data will be the earliest quantitative welfare comparative information for several regions in Africa, for example. Hence the project will open new avenues for understanding the causes and timing of the ascendency of Europe.

Some scholars argue that slavery and colonialism were what made Europe rich – and kept Africa and other regions of the world poor. We will, for example, be able to see the evolution of the welfare levels in Africa before (and during) any large-scale European presence and demand for slaves. Portugal’s sources go two centuries further back than any others, and cover regions such as Angola from which a disproportionate amount of slaves were taken.

We will produce a set of outputs for academically interested stakeholders and the interested general public. These will include a book to be published by a major publisher and three articles for international peer-reviewed academic journals, plus dissemination events, etc.

Now a personal anecdote about my attempts at getting this funded. This was my third attempt. I tried twice before with a similar project via FCT, Portugal’s research funding agency. It was rejected once by a History panel, and once by an Economics one. It got funded at my first attempt with ESRC.

The comments provided by FCT were factually incorrect, and pathetically bad from a scientific standpoint.
– claims made in direct contradiction to the project’s abstract
– claimed I was “too junior” to be the PI (no rules placed any age constraint, and my CV is top compared with any full professor in Portugal; so this is an example of Portugal’s gerontocracy, and probably illegal).

The History panel was in fact mainly composed of archeologists (this is public information) and funded instead of mine, projects such as (again this is public information which can be found online):

A aldeia histórica de Idanha-a-Velha: cidade, território e população na antiguidade (séc. I a.C. – XII d.C.) – The historical village of Idanha-a-Velha: city, territory and population in ancient times (first century BC. – twelfth century AC)”

“O Percurso Cromático do Azulejo Português – The Chromatic Journey of the Portuguese Azulejo”

Pensa em grande sobre as pequenas vilas de fronteira: Alto Alentejo e Alta Extremadura leonesa (séculos XIII – XVI) – Think big on small frontier towns: Alto Alentejo and Alta Extremadura leonesa (13th – 16th centuries)”

Na espessura das paredes e na profundidade do solo – In the width of the walls, in the depth of the soil”

Undeterred, I tried FCT again the following year. To avoid the History panel, I tried Economics, and got these comments:
– contributions the proposal not clear
– only one study country (Mozambique) fits into East Africa (!!)
– The PI (…) has insufficient expertise and the team isn’t sufficently international

In fact, I have published several papers on long-run standards of living (see for instance this), and the proposed team was composed of the PI, me (having my main affiliation abroad) and only two other Portuguese scholars with affiliations in Portugal; the latter two were experts in the sources, located in Portugal and its former colonies. All the other 4 proposed team members are nationals of other countries with affiliations in foreign institutions and all were experts in these types of sources.

To be fair, you sometimes get idiotic comments from referees at good journals too. But FCT does this far too consistently. A key source of criticism to FCT concerns not only the bad scientific quality of the comments one gets but also the fact that one does not have a chance to respond. In ESRC, I got 4 referee assessements of my project, and had a chance to respond to clarify any misunderstandings. Two of those 4 classified this project as “outstanding” along all categories and there was really nothing to respond to; while the other two had minor criticisms, and I got a chance to clarify whether these were misunderstandings. This led to much more fairness and transparency of the process. By contrast, FCT hires supposedly “international experts” – but really most are substandard researchers from often terrible universities – perhaps because it pays them badly, so no one better wants to do the work. The result is what it is: they send their assessment, and if you appeal the rejection, it goes to the same people again (and they just double down on the nonsense).

Anyway, the moral of the story is of course: Starting out is hard, but don’t give up! I’m now looking forward to looking deep into the comparative quantiative history of Africa and other regions of the world.

Luanda 1.jpg

Historical gender discrimination does not explain comparative Western European development

Historical gender discrimination does not explain comparative Western European development: This is what we argue in a new paper (joint work with Jaime Reis and Lisbeth Rodrigues). Also available as a CEPR discussion paper.

Here’s the abstract:

Gender discrimination has been pointed out as a determining factor behind the long-run divergence in incomes of Southern vis-à-vis Northwestern Europe. In this paper, we show that there is no evidence that women in Portugal were historically more discriminated against than those of other parts of Western Europe, including England and the Netherlands. We rely on a new dataset of thousands of observations from archival sources which cover six centuries, and we complement it with a qualitative discussion of comparative social norms. Compared with Northwestern Europe, women in Portugal faced similar gender wage gaps, married at similar ages, and did not face more restrictions to labor market participation. Consequently, other factors must be responsible for the Little Divergence of Western European incomes.

Comparative gender wage gap (f/m) for unskilled casual workers

Slavery delayed the industrialization of Brazil

Slavery in Brazil was only abolished in 1888.

In a new paper we consider the relationship between slavery and development in 19th c. Brazil. The paper is forthcoming in Capitalism: A Journal of History and Economics.

We show that despite its centrality, slavery was not essential for the production of cotton or industrialization. Our paper provides a critical comparative perspective to the New History of Capitalism literature that has attracted a lot of attention from both scholars and the media in recent years by arguing that slavery was essential for economic development and industrialization in the USA.

We show that the Brazilian cotton export boom kickstarted by the American Civil War took place both in regions dependent on slave labor and those relying on free workers and was rooted in new seeds and technologies rather than an increase of violence.

We further show that large-scale slavery distorted and constrained industrial development by diminishing the ability of areas of Brazil well-suited for industrial development to leverage their comparative advantage.

We conclude that slavery enriched a small elite, while damaging Brazilian society and economy at large, as indeed was also the case for the U.S. south (e.g. as argued by Gavin Wright).

“Standards of living in Europe’s Global Empires” session in the WEHC, Paris 2022

UPDATE: the date and locations are out – July 29th 2022 PA.137, 09:00 – 12:30,  Centre des colloques – Room 3.09

This session has been accepted to the World Economic History Conference in Paris.

Session title: “Standards of living in Europe’s Global Empires”

Organizer: Nuno Palma (University of Manchester; ICS, Univ. de Lisboa; CEPR)

Please notice this program is still subject to changes. I will update it as new information arrives.

There are 10 papers in total, which means approx. 15 minutes per paper (plus questions at the end of each session) as this will be a double (2 x 90 minutes) session.

Session 1 (90 minutes)

India and Bengal

Pim de Zwart (Wageningen University), When did India’s decline begin? Real wages in western India, c. 1500-1850 (with Hélder Carvalhal, Jan Lucassen and Paulo Teodoro de Matos)

Jan Lucassen (IISH, Amsterdam): Deep monetization and real wage developments: India C13th-19th

Joseph Enguehard (Lyon): Local living standards and development in Bengal, 1890-1930


Nuno Palma (Univ. Manchester, Univ. Lisboa; CEPR), Living standards in Angola, 1760-1800, with Hélder Carvalhal (University of Manchester)

Session 2 (90 minutes)

Latin America & Southern Europe

Tancredi Buscemi (University of Perugia), Real wages in the Kingdom of Sicily (1540-1830)

Guilherme Lambais (ICS-UL), Welfare and real wages in Bahia (1574-1920), with Nuno Palma (University of Manchester; ICS-UL; CEPR),


Elena Korchmina (University of South Denmark): Living standards in Russia, 1700-1850, with Viktor Borisov (HSE University, Moscow)


Calumet Links (Stellenbosch University), Ecology and Agency: Indigenous responses to Europeans in the Cape Colony and Hudson Bay, with Ann Carlos, Erik Green and Angela Redish

Michael Adelsberger (University of Vienna) and Georg Stoger (Salzburg). Re-evaluating Urban Real Wages and Standards of Living for the Central European Area, ca. 1450-1850


Monetary Policy in Historical Perspective (16th-19th Centuries)

Monetary Policy in Historical Perspective (16th-19th Centuries)

Friday 15 October 2021

UPDATE: Due to COVID-19, this conference will take place one year after the originally scheduled date.

A subset of these papers will also be presented as a double session (2 x 90 minutes) session in the WEHC 2022 in Paris.

Organisers: Dr Stefano Locatelli (History, UoM), Dr Nuno Palma (Economics, UoM)

This event (which I previously mentioned here) is sponsored by The Manchester School, and is the second part of a two-part event organised in collaboration with the History Department, the Department of Economics and the Centre for Economic Cultures at the University of Manchester. Coffee breaks, a light lunch, and dinner will be provided.

note: unfortunately, due to unforseen circumstances Joel Felix from the University of Reading who was going to present “Credit and money in France between John Law and the Caisse d’escompte: Paris de Montmartel’s bank” can no longer attend the conference. The same is true of André Silva of Nova SBE, Roman Zaoral of Charles University and Alejandra Irigoin of the LSE. The program below has now been adjusted accordingly.

Location: Arthur Lewis Building, room G.020/21, The University of Manchester

In the following day, Saturday 16, 2021, there will be an optional visit to the Quarry Bank Mill & Cottages, followed by lunch (costs not included). You can see photos from a past visit here.


9.00-10.00. Keynote: François Velde (Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago), The Neapolitan banks in the context of early modern public banks

10.00-10.20. Coffee break

10.20-10.40. Nicholas J. Mayhew (Oxford), The medieval roots of the early modern and modern monetary system

10.40-11.00. Malik Çürük (Tilburg University), The Determinants of the Differences in Price Levels Across Europe, 1300-1914 (with Kivanç Karaman and Seçil Yıldırım-Karaman).

11.00-11.20. Nuno Palma (Univ. of Manchester), The Spanish Curse (with Carlos Javier Charotti and J. Santos)

11.20-11.40. Phillip Roessner (Univ. of Manchester), Money, and the Wealth and Ruin of Nations. Monetary Policy, State Capacity and Economic Development in Historical Perspective

11.40-12.00. Coffee break

12.00-12.20. Meng Wu (Univ. of Manchester), Adjustments and Vicissitudes: Indirect Notes Issuance in Republican China, 1915-1936 (with Xin Dong)

12.20-12.40. Felix Ward (University of Rotterdam), The vagaries of the sea: evidence on the real effects of money from maritime disasters in the Spanish Empire (with Adam Brzezinski, Yao Chen and Nuno Palma)

12.40-13.00. Mina Ishizu (LSE), How the West India trade fostered the last resort lending by the Bank of England (with Carolyn Sissoko)

13.00-14.00 Lunch

14.00-14.20. Carolyn Sissoko (University of the West of England), How Post-War Normalization Caused the 1825 Crisis

14.20-14.40. Jan Greitens (Württemberg), Mid-18th Century Monetary Theory and Policy in Prussia: Johann Graumann and Johann Heinrich Gottlob Justi

14.40-15.00. Adam Brzezinski (Oxford), Monetary Capacity (with R. Bonfatti, K. Karaman and Nuno Palma)

15.00-15.20 Coffee break

15.20-15.40. Matthias Morys (University of York), Taming the Global Financial Cycle: Central Banks and the Sterlization of Capital Flows in the First Era of Globalization (1891-1913) (with Eric Monnet and Guillaume Bazot)

15.40-16.00 Alba Roldan Marin (Universidad de Barcelona), Reconsidering Spanish economic history during the gold standard era: the consequences of having a flexible exchange rate

16.00. END OF CONFERENCE, followed by dinner at The Wharf at 19.00.