This exhibit aims to explore the many ways in which the early modern European economy organized itself in a common public sphere. From explorers, philosophers, monarchs, and peasants, the exhibit will situate these many historical agents within the major economic developments in an attempt to understand the people who were truly shaping Europe’s economic trajectory.

As historians, we must understand the economy to be more than simply the movement of wealth and resources, but a public platform of exchange in which a society projects its values and aspirations. In this sense, tracing the economic developments will provide unique insight into the broader social processes that extended beyond the elite spheres to include all participants in the early modern economy.

Although historians have often adopted a rather urban-centric approach to understanding Europe’s economic development, this exhibit will often highlight the role of the laborer. Looking beyond the elite circles to village society will reveal that the European commoner was a central component of Europe’s economic organization. These items were chosen in an attempt to illustrate the continued dialogue that existed between these disparate economic agents, with the ideas of the intellectual community and the institutions of the state often a product of the needs of the laborer. Within this framework, the reader will find that the institutions, traditions and social structures of classical antiquity converged with the opportunities and challenges of the early modern era, demanding a wholly new approach in constructing an economy.


Zach Irvin