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The heavy plough and the agricultural revolution in medieval Europe

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Abstract

This research tests the long-standing hypothesis, put forth by Lynn White, Jr. (1962), that the adoption of the heavy plough in northern Europe led to increased population density and urbanization. White argued that it was impossible to take proper advantage of the fertile clay soils of northern Europe before the invention and widespread adoption of the heavy plough. We implement the test in a difference-in-difference set-up by exploiting regional variation in the presence of fertile clay soils. Consistent with the hypothesis, we find that regions with relatively more fertile clay soil experienced increased urbanization and population after the plough had its breakthrough, which was approximately around the closing of the first millennium AD. We find that the heavy plough accounts for more than 10% of the increase in population density and urbanization during the high middle ages.

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  • Andersen, Thomas Barnebeck & Jensen, Peter Sandholt & Skovsgaard, Christian Stejner, 2013. "The heavy plough and the agricultural revolution in medieval Europe," Discussion Papers of Business and Economics 6/2013, University of Southern Denmark, Department of Business and Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:hhs:sdueko:2013_006
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    1. Koepke, Nikola & Baten, Joerg, 2008. "Agricultural specialization and height in ancient and medieval Europe," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 45(2), pages 127-146, April.
    2. Davide Cantoni & Noam Yuchtman, 2014. "Medieval Universities, Legal Institutions, and the Commercial Revolution," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, pages 823-887.
    3. Fujita, Masahisa & Hamaguchi, Nobuaki, 2001. "Intermediate goods and the spatial structure of an economy," Regional Science and Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 31(1), pages 79-109, February.
    4. Oded Galor, 2011. "Unified Growth Theory and Comparative Development," Rivista di Politica Economica, SIPI Spa, issue 2, pages 9-21, April-Jun.
    5. Douglass C. North, 2005. "Introduction to Understanding the Process of Economic Change," Introductory Chapters,in: Understanding the Process of Economic Change Princeton University Press.
    6. Edward L. Glaeser, 2014. "A World Of Cities: The Causes And Consequences Of Urbanization In Poorer Countries," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 12(5), pages 1154-1199, October.
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    Cited by:

    1. Alan Fernihough & Kevin Hjorstshøj O’Rourke, 2014. "Coal and the European Industrial Revolution," Oxford University Economic and Social History Series _124, Economics Group, Nuffield College, University of Oxford.
    2. Javier Mejía, 2015. "The Evolution of Economic History since 1950: From Cliometrics to Cliodynamics (La evolución de la historia económica desde 1950: de cliometría hasta cliodinámica)," TIEMPO & ECONOMÍA, UNIVERSIDAD DE BOGOTA JORGE TADEO LOZANO, pages 79.
    3. Mark Dincecco & Massimiliano Gaetano Onorato, 2016. "Military conflict and the rise of urban Europe," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 21(3), pages 259-282, September.
    4. Torben Dall Schmidt & Peter Sandholt Jensen & Amber Naz, 2014. "New crops, local soils and urbanization: Clover, potatoes and the growth of Danish market towns,1672-1901," Working Papers 0065, European Historical Economics Society (EHES).
    5. Maya Shatzmiller, 2015. "An early knowledge economy: the adoption of paper, human capital and economic change in the medieval Islamic Middle East, 700-1300 AD," Working Papers 0064, Utrecht University, Centre for Global Economic History.
    6. Qing Pei & David D. Zhang & Harry F. Lee & Guodong Li, 2016. "Crop Management as an Agricultural Adaptation to Climate Change in Early Modern Era: A Comparative Study of Eastern and Western Europe," Agriculture, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 6(3), pages 1-17, July.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    Heavy plough; medieval technology; agricultural productivity;

    JEL classification:

    • J10 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - General
    • N10 - Economic History - - Macroeconomics and Monetary Economics; Industrial Structure; Growth; Fluctuations - - - General, International, or Comparative
    • N93 - Economic History - - Regional and Urban History - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • O10 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - General
    • O33 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Innovation; Research and Development; Technological Change; Intellectual Property Rights - - - Technological Change: Choices and Consequences; Diffusion Processes

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