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From Razors to Rock Drills: Metals in the Early Modern World
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences, Institute for Housing and Urban Research. Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Economic History.
2015 (English)In: Scandia, ISSN 0036-5483, Vol. 81, no 2, 107-117 p.Article in journal (Refereed) PublishedText
Abstract [en]

The aim of this article is to highlight the importance of metals to the early modern world. It would not, to take one example, have been possible to shave, and thus to appear as the smooth-faced gentleman of the period, without the development in steel-making technologies, and the actual extraction of ore would also have been hampered without the very same development, as would cabinet-making. The importance of metals is also emphasized by the way in which they were entangled in many other developments. Metals were traded globally and circulated in similar flows to textiles, exotic woods and turtle shells. Exquisite steel wares were also sometimes combined with these other materials, as in a delicate mahogany etui, clad in green velvet and filled with assorted Sheffield wares, given to the Brukspatron Michaelson, at Skebo. This example is crucial in another way as well. The steel incorporated in these wares was made from iron produced in Michaelson's own forges, underlining the close affiliation of production and consumption, what we call Making and Taking, in the thinking of the early modern world. Such commercial and manufacturing loops, jumping as they do between production and consumption, create a starting-point for the analysis outlined here. Another aim is to re-instate metals in the ongoing discussions about the developments that replaced the early modern world with the present modern society we now inhabit. Metals, and in particular iron, figured prominently in the more heroic, or even revolutionary, explanations that dominated the first decades of the postwar period, but have waned ever since. From the 1970s the textile trades enjoyed a more central/significant place in explanations stressing the gradual aspect of development. It is time, we argue, to once again reinstate metals in the discussion about global development towards our present society. In conclusion we would like to say that our ambition is to establish a 'historiographical loop', in that we want to use the early modern way of analytically linking production to consumption, as a means to better understand and explain early modern society and its gradual development into our own time.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2015. Vol. 81, no 2, 107-117 p.
Keyword [en]
Global history, iron and steel, production and consumption, historical change
National Category
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-283687ISI: 000371845600010OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-283687DiVA: diva2:919495
Available from: 2016-04-14 Created: 2016-04-14 Last updated: 2016-04-14Bibliographically approved

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Rydén, Göran
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Institute for Housing and Urban ResearchDepartment of Economic History
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