Carlo M. Cipolla

1995 Balzan Prize for Economic History

Carlo M. Cipolla is considered by his peers as a leader in economic history who knew how to instill a spirit of innovation in the discipline. Thanks to his intellectual curiosity, dominated by the most rigorous thought and methodology, and through meticulous research of source material, he has combined the macro-historic approach with studies in micro-history in works of great originality and solidity, which cover a broad range of economic and cultural fields.

In 1949, at the age of twenty-seven, Carlo M. Cipolla (1922 – 2000) became full professor of Economic History in Catania, Sicily. He then taught in other Italian universities, and, beginning in 1959, also at the University of California, Berkeley. He was invited to hold courses in French, Belgian, Swedish, German, American, Spanish, and English universities. Currently, he is professor emeritus of the Department of Economics of the University of California, Berkeley, and of the Scuola Normale Superiore of Pisa. The major part of his 21 books have been translated into various languages, with “The Economic History of World Population” arriving to a total of thirteen.

This extraordinary success is explained by the multitude of his contributions to the Economic History. In 1952 appeared “Mouvements monétaires dans l’Etat de Milan 1580 à 1700’. In the 1960’s, he published two books which became pioneer works regarding the study of European overseas expansion and the confrontation between eastern and western cultures, “Guns and Sails in the Early Phase of European Expansion” (London, 1965) and “Clocks and Culture 1300-1700” (London, 1967). Those works contributed to a better understanding of the reasons for European economic and political supremacy, thanks to the combination of economic history, technological, cultural, political, and military facts. In the 1970 ‘s, he published important studies on the effects of the plague and other epidemics, “Cristofano and the Plague. A Study of Pubiic Health in the Age of Galileo” (London-Berkeley-Los Angeles, 1973), and “Public Health and the Medical Profession in the Renaissance” (Cambridge, 1976). Contemporarily, he presented an excellent interpretation of the pre-industrial society, “Before the Industrial Revolution: European Society and Economy 1000-1700” (New York, 1976). Since then, he has never ceased to deepen his knowledge in these fields. He is about to publish a “Storia della moneta spagnola nel Cinque e Seicento”(the story of the “piece of eight”). One of his collections of essays, “Le leggi fondamentali della stupidità umana”, gave birth to a theatrical performance in France, being so successful that it was played in twenty cities. His six monographs on epidemics and publie health institutions – the last being “Miasmas and Disease: Public Health and the Environment in the Pre-Industrial Age” (New HavenLondon, 1992) – are considered by medical historians as “the most important, accessible, and comprehensive overviews of disease, medical theory, and public health in any region of early modem Europe” (Isis 85:3, 1994, 517).

These examples demonstrate how Professor Cipolla, unlike many economic historians, conceives his discipline in a wide dimension. Not only does he master the techniques and methods of an economist: he views his field in a social and, above all, cultural dimension. His observations are always pointed towards men and women in their most concrete forms of life, and thus his approach in dealing with economics can be called humanistic behaviour.

This hasn’t prevented Professor Cipolla from treating the concepts of economic theory with elegance and great exactitude. This need is related to all his thinking and way of proceeding and transpires in all his works, as it does in his teaching and participation in debates. His opinions have always been influential and call to mind the essence of his principles: an analysis of the laws and behaviour of economics.

The originality of Professor Cipolla is shown also in the extraordinary diversity of his interests. Nothing escapes his attention, and every topic offers him the occasion to set about investigating a matter. It makes no difference if the question at hand is whether it be demography, education, technology, public health, money, economic structures, or long-term economic trends: there is no area into which he hasn ‘t ventured with courage, with rare wisdom, and with an enthusiasm which is the key to understanding his sensitiveness, and also his way of confronting various problems.

Professor Cipolla has written much, mainly small and most lucid books. They are never loaded with digressions, and go straight to the essential discussions. This is the reason why a major part of his books have had such an extraordinary success as demonstrated by the demand for other editions and numerous translations. This wide spectrum of works never runs the risk of becoming superficial. Each of his essays is based on thoroughly exhaustive research, the material coming from sources in the archives. Interpreted with rare elegance, they furnish this man of science with the secret of the economic and cultural behaviour of humanity.

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