From Gift Exchange to Profit Economy Reconsidered: Toward a Cultural History of Money

  • Julie L. Mell
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Cultural and Intellectual History book series (CIH)


Chapter  3 discussed three classics in medieval economic history that appeared in the 1970s: Robert Lopez’s The Commercial Revolution of the Middle Ages, 950–1350 (1971), Georges Duby’s Early Growth of the European Economy (1973), and Lester Little’s Religious Poverty and the Profit Economy (1978).2 Lopez was presented as representative of the broad and path-breaking scholarship in medieval economic history in the mid-twentieth century, and his monograph Commercial Revolution of the Middle Ages as a synthesis of the scholarship on the high medieval expansion of trade, markets, and money by a generation of medieval economic and business historians on both sides of the Atlantic. Duby and Little were discussed as representatives of the trajectory flowing from Polanyi (and Mauss), which expanded the definition of economy beyond the categories of money, market, and trade. Duby in his Early Growth of the European Economy applied the sociological concept of “gift exchange” to early medieval economy, and in the conclusion contrasted this early medieval “gift economy” with Lopez’s commercial “takeoff” of the High Middle Ages. Little adopted Duby’s juxtaposition of early medieval “gift economy” and high medieval “profit economy” as the starting point for a study of the social and cultural effects of the commercial revolution.3 Little posited that the radical economic transition from a gift economy to a profit economy generated a disjuncture between the new socioeconomic realities and a traditional, unresponsive clergy and theology resulting in a “spiritual crisis of medieval urban culture.”4

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© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Julie L. Mell
    • 1
  1. 1.North Carolina State UniversityRaleighUSA

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