Journal of Global History


Knowledge and divergence from the perspective of early modern India*

Tirthankar Roya1

a1 Economic History Department, London School of Economics and Political Science, Houghton Street, London WC2A 2AE, UK E-mail:


This article explores the origins of divergent technological pathways in the early modern world, and the role that artisanal knowledge played in this process. It rejects older explanations based on societal differences in entrepreneurial propensities and incentives, and a more modern one based on factor cost. It argues instead for the importance of conditions that facilitated transactions between complementary skills. In India, the institutional setting within which artisan techniques were learned had made such transactions less likely than in eighteenth-century Europe. The cost of acquiring knowledge, therefore, was relatively high in India.

Tirthankar Roy is lecturer in economic history at the London School of Economics and Political Science.


* I wish to thank three readers and the editors of the journal for comments and suggestions that led to significant changes to an earlier version. I have benefited from discussions with Patrick O'Brien on the theme of this article, and from responses received at two seminars at the London School of Economics and Political Science and the University of Warwick. I am grateful to Frances Pritchett for making available a copy of the picture that appears as