Research School for Economic and Social History


23 January 2023
FelixArchief, Oudeleeuwenrui 29, 2000 Antwerp, Belgium

PhD Defence Sam Geens

On 23 January 2023, Posthumus alumnus Sam Geens succesfully defended his doctoral thesis Een Gouden Eeuw voor arbeid? Inkomen en rijkdom voor en na de Zwarte Dood in de Zuidelijke Nederlanden en de Florentijnse Republiek (1275-1550). Supervisors were Professors Tim Soens, Bruno Blondé, and Peter Stabel

The Black Death and subsequent plague waves killed millions in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Although these traumatic events unsettled social relations, economic production, and cultural values, scholars have also stressed their positive impact on living standards. Already from the nineteenth century on, scholars have characterised the period as the Golden Age for labour. Yet, some historians have been more sceptical about the evidence. This thesis takes these comments at heart by critically examining income, work time, and wealth to determine the true scope of the Golden Age across time, space, and social groups. Thanks to a comparison between the Republic of Florence and the Southern Low Countries, Geens shows that the plague pandemic did not result in a universal increase in living standards. In the last-mentioned region, the income and wealth of most households reached unprecedented heights because of a type of industrious revolution. In stark contrast, such a positive evolution was absent in the Republic of Florence outside the capital. Here, only the ruling elites were able to increase their fortunes due to protectionist measures, the spread of exploitive forms of urban landownership, and increasing fiscal pressure to finance the many wars.

We congratulate Sam with this achievement!