The best economic history mines data from the past to establish dis- tinct patterns, impute causal effects and unravel the mechanisms that drive economic sub-systems. But given the demands set by scholarship based on archival records and atypical sources, the advance of knowledge often tends to be marginal and yet controversial. Innovative discussions on local or sectoral developments are so specialized in terms of subject matter that they are known only to researchers in the same or allied fields. But as the output of such scholarship accumulates the potential for analyses that provide the big picture increases. Despite some gaps or inadequacies of evidence, through such analyses, the larger story of the dynamic of whole systems can be told. The best scholars among those who have muddied their hands analysing the microcosm, with the erudition needed to cover the experience of many continents and examine the process of economic and social evolution over centuries, can step back and synthesize the results yielded by the efforts of many others, besides their own.
October 2006, volume 30, No 10