The spread of Hindu-Arabic numerals in European commercial practices: a case study on the elaboration and diffusion of a commercial paradigm in pre-industrial Europe
Raffaele Danna - Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna
The Institute of Economics will hold a seminar meeting as part of its Seminar Series on Tuesday, October 12, 2021: Raffaele Danna from Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna will present the paper "The spread of Hindu-Arabic numerals in European commercial practices: a case study on the elaboration and diffusion of a commercial paradigm in pre-industrial Europe".
The adoption of Hindu-Arabic numerals (0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9) in the late middle ages enhanced the computational capabilities of the Europeans, as the positional numeral system made it possible to manipulate numbers in ways that could not be matched by previous reckoning systems. The first European economic agents to adopt this mathematics were also the introducers of a wave of innovations in commercial practices. Yet, little is known about the economic impact of the adoption and subsequent diffusion of Hindu-Arabic numerals among European economic agents. The paper introduces a new dataset of 1290 practical arithmetic manuals written from the 13th to the end of the 16th century. This dataset makes it possible to document the diffusion of Hindu-Arabic numerals in European vernacular contexts. The paper discusses the relevance of the sources, shows some descriptive statistics, and elaborates on possible interpretative hypotheses. The main argument is that the diffusion of practical arithmetic in Europe provides an instructive case study on the diffusion of innovations in pre-industrial Europe.
The seminar will be held in blended mode. In person participation is possible and available seats are allocated on a first come first served basis. For online participation please use the following link.