Projects - NWO-Project (Summary)

Data Infrastructures for the Study of Guilds and Other Forms of Collective Action



Over the past decades there has been an increasing scholarly interest in collective action because economic and social theories hypothesize that guilds and comparable bodies such as commons and water boards play a fundamental role in economic, social and political development. Such institutions develop rules for economic transactions, form an important part of the framework for market exchange, enhance socio-political skills (they are typically governed by meetings, councils and other institutions through which the members exercise some form of democratic control) and build social capital (via networking). Moreover, the Low Countries seem to have been particularly active in the development of such bodies, which may help to explain the particular political (the 'poldermodel')and economic paths this area has been following ever since. In order to study the origins and development of these bodies, historians of guilds from the Netherlands and from abroad are in the process of compiling data sets containing their most important characteristics.


The aim is to create data sets of bodies – in particular of craft and merchant guilds – which are comparable across time and space for a number of European countries (Italy, the Low Countries and England) and China, in order to be able to analyse their long-term development and relationship with economic growth in more detail. This builds on previous work by scholars who have collected data on guilds in these countries, but these data sets have to be extended, improved and made comparable in order to allow for longitudinal and spatial comparisons. Moreover, for the Low Countries similar data sets for other kinds of bodies – commons, waterboards, journeymen’s boxes and beguinages – will also be compiled, to put the development of merchant and craft guilds into perspective and to get a much broader view on the development of different forms of collective action.

The project aims to coordinate, harmonize and broaden this work on systematic data sets of guilds, in order to facilitate international comparative study of the rise and development of these bodies in the centuries before the Industrial Revolution. Complemented with other data sets, the applicants aim at creating a data infrastructure that should shed a new light on the comparative study of pre-industrial 'collective action'.

Applicants of this project

Prof. dr. Jan Luiten van Zanden (Utrecht University)

Prof. dr. Jan Lucassen (International Institute of Social History)

Dr. Tine De Moor (Utrecht University)

Prof. dr. Maarten Prak (Utrecht University)

Projectcode Utrecht University





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