Martha C. Howell challenges dominant interpretations of the relationship between the so-called commercial revolution of late medieval Europe and the capitalist age that followed. She argues that the merchants, shopkeepers, artisans, and consumers in cities and courts throughout Western Europe, even in the urbanized Low Countries that are the main focus of this study, were by means proto-capitalist and did t consider their property a fungible asset. Even though they freely bought and sold property using sophisticated financial techniques, they preserved its capacity to secure social bonds by intensifying market regulations and by assigning new meaning to marriage, gift-giving, and consumption. Later generations have sometimes found such actions perplexing, often dismissing them as evidence that business people of the late medieval and early modern worlds did t fully understand market rules. Howell, by contrast, shows that such practices were governed by a logic specific to their age and that, however primitive they may appear to subsequent generations, these practices made Europe's ecomic future possible.
Martha C. Howell is Miriam Champion Professor of History at Columbia University. The recipient of awards and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Fulbright Commission, and the American Council of Learned Societies, among others, she is the author and editor of many books, including Women, Production and Patriarchy in Late Medieval Cities and The Marriage Exchange: Property, Social Place and Gender in Cities of the Low Countries, 1300-1550. In 2005, she was named Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa, by the University of Ghent.