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It will be seen from the foregoing that some of the spirit and practices of modern capitalism were already apparent as early as the eleventh and twelfth centuries. European thought was becoming more secular with the development of a mercantile culture which stressed the production of goods for profit in contrast with the former emphasis on production for use. Medieval man began exploiting opportunities for more effective production and is distribution of the products of farm, mine, and shop. From this search evolved the economic system we call capitalism. In its rudimentary form this institution was not unknown during the Dark Ages. Though, greatly overshadowed, it provided some opportunities for entrepreneurial activity during the early Middle Ages, and thus capitalism that emerged full-blown in the sixteenth century was the result of an evolutionary process of trial and error. [excerpt]


This is a part of Section V: The Rise of Capitalism and the National State to 1500. The Contemporary Civilization page lists all additional sections of Ideas and Institutions of Western Man, as well as the Table of Contents for both volumes.

More About Contemporary Civilization:

From 1947 through 1969, all first-year Gettysburg College students took a two-semester course called Contemporary Civilization. The course was developed at President Henry W.A. Hanson’s request with the goal of “introducing the student to the backgrounds of contemporary social problems through the major concepts, ideals, hopes and motivations of western culture since the Middle Ages.”

Gettysburg College professors from the history, philosophy, and religion departments developed a textbook for the course. The first edition, published in 1955, was called An Introduction to Contemporary Civilization and Its Problems. A second edition, retitled Ideas and Institutions of Western Man, was published in 1958 and 1960. It is this second edition that we include here. The copy we digitized is from the Gary T. Hawbaker ’66 Collection and the marginalia are his.