Conference Agenda

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Session Overview
S143: On the Great Transition in Agriculture and Rural Society at the end of the Middle Ages
Friday, 20/Jun/2025

Session Chair: Antoni Furió;

Session Abstract

How the transition from feudalism to capitalism took place has been a largely discussed matter among historians. It was the centre of two rounds of debate among Marxist historians and economists in the late 1940s and 1950s, and again, in the 1970s in the Brenner Debate. The participants in this debates assumed that what was decisive in the transition was what happened in agriculture and rural society, and specially the outcomes to the clash between peasants and feudal lords which erupted during the period subsequent to the Black Death of 1348. In these views, the rural economy was seen as essential stagnant and backward until the late fourteenth century. More recently, historians such as Christopher Dyer and Bruce M. S. Campbell have been able to provide a completely reassessment of the period, far more positive and vibrant, with key consequences for modern growth. Indeed, Campbell has seen the later Middle Ages as a “Great Transition” in rural economy: a period of flexibility, with an enhanced capacity for change that resembles to a large extent to that of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. As for Dyer, his work questions the indefinite, circumstantial character, as an age of transition between the medieval and modern world, between feudalism and capitalism, which traditionally is given to the period between mid-thirteenth and mid-sixteenth century, calling for a more substantive consideration as a period in itself.

Following the spirit of both contributions, our session aims to explore the many aspects of this transition. We encourage speakers to present papers on key changes in medieval rural society and economy in the period 1250-1550: progress in agricultural technology and productivity (intensification, new crops, new techniques, fertilisation, irrigation, news types of management, investment, commercialisation) and in rural society (stratification, emergence of peasant elites, poverty and wealth inequality).

No contributions were assigned to this session.

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