Apprenticeship in Early Modern Europe

In November, Camebridge University Press published Apprenticeship in Early Modern Europe, a volume of essays edited by Prof Maarten Prak (Economic and Social History) and  Patrick Wallis (London School of Economics). Its ten chapters together offer the first European survey of apprenticeship in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Apprenticeship was an essential element of human capital formation, which in turn is increasingly seen as an important, perhaps even crucial element of economic growth. The book offers a systematic comparison of apprenticeship in many European countries and towns. Schools for vocational training only emerged in the 19th century. In an earlier age, this type of education was organized by craft guilds, or by private contract between a master and his pupil, sometimes a combination of both.

Prof. dr. Maarten Prak. Foto: Ed van Rijswijk
Prof. dr. Maarten Prak. Foto: Ed van Rijswijk

European system

The book demonstrates that apprenticeship was a genuinely European system, with local variations, which gave large numbers of youngsters, mostly boys, access to an education from people who were not relatives, nor necessarily living in their hometowns. Apprenticeship made craftsmanship and the attendant technologies accessible to large groups in society. In other parts of the world, family was much more important in such education, while formal structures were also lacking. This allowed European industries to progress relatively rapidly, already before the Industrial Revolution.