Research program : Upper Tail Human Capital and the Rise of the West

Context: Over the period 1500-1800, the West gained global primacy, first through the "scientific revolution", second with the "industrial revolution".

Question: Were knowledge institutions such as universities and academies essential for this rise ? were scholars and literati key for this development ? or, instead, is the enthusiasm for knowledge a mere consequence of enrichment?

Database: To address this question, there is a need for a database on members of universities and scientific societies. Key point: A European view is needed to grasp the mobility and network patterns.

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Two of my previous papers gave me the willingness to relate macro development to micro data on scholars. The first one looks at apprenticeship, how it is related to knowledge diffusion in a Malthusian growth model, and why Europe developed specific bottom-up apprenticeship institutions. The second paper builds a large sample of famous people, studies their longevity, and defends the view that human capital might have been key in triggering the take-off of the West.

Clans, Guilds, and Markets: Apprenticeship Institutions and Growth in the Pre-Industrial Economy, Quarterly Journal of Economics, 133, 1-70, 2018 [with M. Doepke and J. Mokyr]

teaser teaser | abstract abstract | pdf article | appendix appendix | data data | slides slides | blog blog | bibtex citation | homepage Doepke | homepage Mokyr

The Longevity of Famous People from Hammurabi to Einstein, Journal of Economic Growth, 20, 263–303, 2015 [with O. Licandro]

teaser teaser | abstract abstract | pdf article | appendix appendix | slides slides | data data | blog blog | blog blog | photo photo | bibtex citation | homepage Licandro

Pilots to study feasibility

Early video introducing the project: youtube

Is it feasible to build a database of members of knowledge institutions before 1800 in Europe ? Two "pilot" studies have been carried out, testing the best case (well documented universities and academies in Germany and The Netherlands), and the worst case (university with little existing information in France, Aix-en-Provence). In the first study we collected vital dates and activity periods for 10k scholars using the information offered by Dutch and German universities. In the second study, we consider a university that has neither a ready-to-use website nor published biographies of their professors. Here, we combine knowledge from books written on their history and published cartularia with local biographical dictionaries. Starting from none, we identified 476 scholars at this university, attesting to the feasibility of the data collection effort.

These two studies also carry a message on their own.

Social status, war, medical knowledge, and the timing of life expectancy improvements among Germanic scholars over the 15th–19th centuries [with R. Stelter and M. Myrskylä]

abstract abstract | slides slides | homepage Stelter | homepage Myrskylä

A la découverte des professeurs de l’ancienne université d’Aix, depuis ses orgines à 1793, Annales du Midi [avec A. Fabre]

abstract abstract | appendix appendix | data data | photo map | homepage Fabre

Preliminary Results

Agglomeration and sorting patterns among medieval and early modern scholars testify to a functioning academic market in Europe. Such market forces shaped the geographic distribution of upper-tail human capital, and contributed to bolstering European universities at the dawn of the Humanistic and Scientific Revolutions.

The video on the right maps the university-scholar dyads over time. Red dots correspond to universities. Blue dots represent scholars' birthplaces. Size of blue dots are function of publications. The dashed lines link academic scholars' birth place to the university for which they taught through the least costly path, using the human mobility index of Ömer Özak.

The Academic Market and the Rise of Universities in Medieval and Early Modern Europe (1000-1800) [with F. Docquier, A. Fabre and R. Stelter]

pdf article | slides slides | homepage Docquier | homepage Fabre | homepage Stelter

Human capital transmission and Nepotism. From the Bernouillis to the Eulers, families of scholars have been common in academia since the foundation of the first medieval universities. In this paper, we have shown that this was the result of two factors: First, scholar's sons benefited from their fathers' connections to be nominated to academic positions in their father's university. Before 1800, one in ten scholars' sons were nepotic scholars. They became academics even when their underlying human capital was 2.4 standard deviations lower than that of marginal outsider scholars. Second, scholars transmitted their sons a set of underlying endowments, i.e., human capital and abilities, that were crucial for the production of scientific knowledge. Our estimates suggest a large intergenerational elasticity of such endowments, as high as 0.6.

Lineages of Scholars in pre-industrial Europe: Nepotism vs Intergenerational Human Capital Transmission [with M. Goñi]

pdf article | slides slides | homepage Goñi