HST 143 Entrepreneurship and Innovation

in Medieval and Early Modern Europe,


Prof. S. Sargent

Lippman 224


Course Description

This course examines the meaning and impact of European entrepreneurship during the half millennium (or so) prior to the rise of industrial capitalism in the late eighteenth century. It takes a broad view of entrepreneurship as the ability to perceive opportunities and exploit them by combining resources and expertise to achieve something new and unusual. Economic entrepreneurs will get much, but not all, of the attention.

To cover so many centuries, the course combines lectures on the broad trends of European social and economic development in different eras with in-depth case studies of individual entrepreneurs. It pays particular attention to the revival of towns, trade, and the money economy in the High Middle Ages (1000-1400), the global expansion of Europe’s economic power during the Renaissance (1400-1600), and the beginnings of commercial and industrial capitalism in the Netherlands and England (1600-1800).

Finally, based on a reading of William J. Baumol’s seminal article “Entrepreneurship: Productive, Unproductive, and Destructive,” the course considers the ways in which European entrepreneurship was both helpful and harmful to society in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Era.

Books to Buy

John Man    The Gutenberg Revolution

Ross King                        Brunelleschi’s Dome

Phillips and Phillips            The Worlds of Christopher Columbus

Charles Corn                        The Scents of Eden: A History of the Spice Trade

Ben Marsden                        Watt’s Perfect Engine

Course Outline

Topic 1             Productive and Redistributive Entrepreneurship

William J. Baumol, “Entrepreneurship: Productive, Unproductive, and Destructive” (1990)

Entrepreneurship and Town Foundation: William Brewer

Entrepreneurship and War: John Hawkwood

Topic 2             Medieval Entrepreneurship (1100 – 1400)

Merchant Entrepreneurs: Godric of Finchale, Romano Mairano, Jehan Boinebroke,       Francesco Datini

Topic 3            Renaissance Entrepreneurship: Italy and Germany I (1400-1500)

Entrepreneurship and Printing: Johann Gutenberg (d. 1468)

Entrepreneurship and Architecture: Filippo Brunelleschi (d. 1455)

Topic 4            Renaissance Entrepreneurship: Italy and Germany II (1500-1550)

Entrepreneurial Women: Lucrezia Borgia (d. 1519)

Entrepreneurship and Monopolies: Agostino Chigi (d. 1520) and Jakob Fugger (d. 1525)

Topic 5            Renaissance Entrepreneurship: Portugal and Spain (1400-1500)

Entrepreneurship and Africa: Prince Henry the Navigator (d. 1460)

Entrepreneurship and America: Christopher Columbus (d. 1506)

Topic 6            Entrepreneurship in the East Indies I: Portugal (1500-1600)

Entrepreneurship, Spices, and Religion: Francisco Serrano, Ferdinand Magellan, Francis Xavier

Topic 7   Entrepreneurship in the East Indies II: The Dutch (1600-1800)

Entrepreneurship and the Dutch East India Company: Jan Pieterszoon Coen (d. 1630)

Topic 8   Entrepreneurship and Women, Music, and Furniture (1700-1800)

Entrepreneurial Women: Elizabeth Baulacre (d. 1693) and Anna Maria Merian (d. 1717)

Entrepreneurship and Design: Antonio Stradivarius (d. 1737) and Thomas Chippendale (d. 1779)

Topic 9   English Entrepreneurship I (1700-1800)

Entrepreneurship and the Early Industrial Revolution I: Josiah Wedgwood (d. 1795) and Thomas Bentley (d.   1780)

Topic 10   English Entrepreneurship II (1700-1800)

Entrepreneurship and the Early Industrial Revolution II: James Watt (d. 1819) and Matthew Boulton (d. 1809)

Reading assignments

Reading assignments will be posted on the course webpage at

Article assignments and due dates

Friday, Sept. 20            Short article #1 (600 words)

Friday, Sept. 27            Short article #2 (600 words)

Friday, Oct. 4                        Short article #3 (600 words)

Friday, Oct. 11            Feature article #1 (1800 words)

Friday, Oct 18                        Short article #4 (600 words)

Friday, Oct 25                        Short article #5 (600 words)

Friday, Nov. 1                        Feature article #2 (1800 words)

Friday, Nov. 8                        Short article #6 (600 words)

Friday, Nov. 15            Short article #7 (600 words)

Friday, Nov. 22            Feature article #3 (1800 words)

All articles must be submitted through the Union College Nexus webpage for this course ( No hardcopy or emailed papers will be accepted. No late papers will be accepted. 


CourseGrade Minimum number of dollars earned % of maximum without bonuses
A 5200 93%
A- 4800 86%
B+ 4400 79%
B 4000 71%
B- 3600 64%
C+ 3200 57%
C 2800 50%
C- 2400 43%
D 2000 36%


Disabilities Accommodation

Students with documented disabilities should notify the Dean of Students Office and their instructors of any special needs. It is the policy of Union College to make reasonable accommodations for qualified individuals with disabilities. If you are a person with a disability and wish to request an accommodation to complete your course requirements, please make an appointment with the instructors as soon as possible to discuss your request. For information on documentation requirements, contact the Dean of Students Office or Shelly Shinebarger at ext. 6116.

Honor Code

Matriculation at the College is taken to signify implicit agreement with the Academic Honor Code, available at  It is each student’s responsibility to ensure that submitted work is his or her own and does not involve any form of academic misconduct. Students are expected to ask their course instructors for clarification regarding, but not limited to, collaboration, citations, and plagiarism.  Ignorance is not an excuse for breaching academic integrity.

Union College’s E-mail Policy

Union College considers the College’s e-mail system (that is, student’s address), the standard means of internal communication at the College. All full-time and part- time students are expected to regularly check their Union College e-mail account and to acknowledge messages in a timely manner. In addition to general College notices, faculty members frequently use the College’s e-mail system to notify and correspond with members of their classes. It is recommended that students frequently access their College assigned e-mail account for information. Individuals may choose to have their e-mail accounts forwarded to an off-campus account. All st udents are responsible for managing their disk quota such that there is room for new mail to arrive.

The College is not responsible for delivery problems to non-official e-mail accounts.

Skip to toolbar