Manufactures in European Economic Literature of the Enlightenment: The Description des Arts et Métiers and the Schauplatz der Künste und Handwerke
The year 1750 marks the start of a great outpouring of economic literature. Besides documenting that in various ways, both statistical and otherwise, I will show that the fastest growing part of that literature, far from being generally descriptive of the economy or prescriptive in advancing arguments relating to economic policies, was practical. It was intended to be useful. It recounted best practices in agriculture, and it described how best to ply certain crafts and manufacture a variety of goods. The works mentioned in the title of this essay are above all exemplars of the new emphasis on producing goods. Finally, I will argue that these works had a significance that transcended their texts as embodiments of technological information. Implicitly, though rarely explicitly, they contributed to contemporary debates about economic freedom and the values attached to work, especially work with ones hands. They represented a break with old ways, and in their raising of aspirations, their use of the intellect to advance knowledge, they should be viewed as important elements in what we term the Enlightenment.