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Gary Richardson (UC Irvine): Craft Guilds and Risk-Sharing in Late Medieval England: A Link Between Social and Economic Change

In late-medieval England, craft guilds provided members with occupational and risk-sharing services. Why did guilds pursue those seemingly unrelated goals? What were the consequences of that combination? Theories of organizational behavior answer those questions. Craft guilds provided occupational and risk-sharing services because the former facilitated the success of the latter and vice versa. The reciprocal nature of this relationship linked the ability of guilds to maximize profits and mitigate risk. This link between profit and risk at the local level linked economic trends, such as expansions and contractions of trade in the Later Middle Ages, and social trends in the wider world, such as changes in family structure and church doctrine.

Sarina Kuersteiner (Haifa): Risk Commodity: Insurance Contracts, Economic and Juridical Thought (ca.1100–1400)

“Insurance” as the idea that risk can be sold and bought as an intangible – a commodity separate from money or goods – appears in the northwestern Mediterranean in the form of Latin notarial contracts toward the middle of the fourteenth century. Scholars have given two dominant explanations for why insurance appeared in the form of a contract by 1350. First, they argue that when trade became sedentary, investors who no longer accompanied their wares needed an instrument to protect them effectively. Second, they interpret the development of the insurance contract as an attempt to circumvent the usury prohibition. But neither of these explanations account for Jewish and Muslim traders, who did not develop risk as an intangible commodity, even though, like Christians, they operated through sedentary merchants and took the usury prohibition very seriously. Analyzing the language of risk transfer in Latin contracts from ca. 1100 to 1400, this article shows that risk crystallizes into a tradable commodity alongside the integration of elements such as probability and doubt – key elements of risk – into theological and juridical thought. The combination of documents of practice and theological and legal treatises sheds new light on complex issues in the history of medieval economic institutions.


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Please note that bookings for this seminar will close 24 hours in advance to allow the meeting link to be distributed.