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Between apprenticeship and skill: acquiring knowledge outside the academy in Early Modern England

Wallis, Patrick ORCID: 0000-0003-1434-515X (2019) Between apprenticeship and skill: acquiring knowledge outside the academy in Early Modern England. Science in Context, 32 (2). pp. 155-170. ISSN 0269-8897

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Identification Number: 10.1017/S0269889719000164


Apprenticeship was probably the largest mode of organized learning in early modern European societies, and artisan practitioners commonly began as apprentices. Yet little is known about how youths actually gained skills. I develop a model of vocational pedagogy that accounts for the characteristics of apprenticeship and use a range of legal and autobiographical sources to examine the contribution of different forms of training in England. Apprenticeship emerges as a relatively narrow channel, in which the master's contribution to training was weakly defined and executed conservatively. The creation of complementary channels of formal instruction was constrained by cost and coordination problems. When we consider a range of British youths who obtained advanced skills as artisan practitioners (and engaged in invention or pursued natural philosophical interests), we see the importance of individual agency over institutional structures. For these youths, training could involve rejecting apprenticeship, engaging in periods of advanced study, including time in multiple workshops after the end of apprenticeship, and parallel campaigns to access scarce books and communities of scholarship.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2018 University of Cambridge
Divisions: Economic History
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D204 Modern History
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
Date Deposited: 22 Jun 2018 14:53
Last Modified: 15 May 2024 23:18

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