a1 University of Washington
European economic history has always been concerned with the grand theme of the rise of the Western World. Sometimes this is put in terms of the transition from feudalism to capitalism and, if a Marxian dialectician is present, eventually to socialism. The literature is essentially the product of historians and as such is particularistic. No consistent theoretical foundation runs through it, except perhaps the Marxian one. The result is a chaotic output for which generalization is difficult, and in which bits and scraps of evidence are proffered for almost every specific explanation. This has helped the Marxist explanation to survive since, despite its evident shortcomings, it does provide a single path through the wilderness of medieval and modern European economic history.