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Research interests

    How I gather data at the State Archives of Florence

My projects share one common feature: make “economics” and “history” happily marry each other.

Empirical Analysis of Contracts
"Endogenous Matching and the Empirical Determinants of Contract Form," Journal of Political Economy (2002), with Daniel A. Ackerberg.
The article uses information on principals (landlords), agents (tenants), and the type of agrarian contracts (sharecropping, fixed-rent, wage contracts) in early medieval Tuscany from primary sources collected at the State Archives of Florence to test some predictions of contract theory. The key novelty is that these data enable to control for the endogeneity problem that plagues most of the empirical literature on contract theory.

Marriage Markets in Comparative Perspective
"Why Dowries?" American Economic Review (2003) with Aloysius Siow, and Price of Love: Marriage Markets in Comparative Perspective, under contract with Princeton University Press.

In the article, we ask and address a variety of questions: Why in many civilizations in the past (from ancient Mesopotamia to medieval Tuscany) parents gave dowries to their daughters at the time of the marriage and left bequests to their sons? Why do dowries survive today in some countries in South-East Asia whereas they have disappeared elsewhere?

The book project expands this line of research by using information on about 7,500 marriage and dowries contracts, as well as 4,500 wills, related to households living in Florence and rural villages from 1260 to 1435, which I collected at the State Archives of Florence. The goal is to understand how Tuscan people searched in the marriage market, how they matched, and to study the dual role of the dowry as a pre-morten inheritance from parents to daughters and as a price in the marriage market to find a suitable groom.

Religious Norms, Human Capital, and Jewish History, 70-1492
This project, joint with Zvi Eckstein, has produced two articles (in the Journal of Economic History 2005, and in the Journal of the European Economic Association 2007), two handbook chapters (in the New Palgrave Dictionary 2008, and in the Oxford Encyclopedia of the Economics of Religion 2011), and a book, The Chosen Few: How Education Shaped Jewish History, 70-1492, published by Princeton University Press (August 2012), winner of the 2012 National Jewish Book Award in the category of "scholarship", and translated into Chinese, French, Hebrew, Italian, Polish, Spanish, and Vietnamese.

The project is a journey back in time and across a territory spanning from Seville in Spain to Mangalore in India in order to uncover why the Jews became the people they did. The purpose of this passage through 1,500 years of Jewish history is to ask and answer a variety of questions. Why are there so few Jewish farmers? Why are the Jews an urban population of traders, bankers, financiers, lawyers, physicians, and scholars? When and why did these occupational and residential patterns become the distinctive marks of the Jews? Why did the Jewish population shrink from about 5.5 million at the time of Jesus to less than 1.2 million in the days of Mohammed? Why did the number of Jews reach its lowest level (less than 1 million) on the eve of the mass expulsion from the Iberian Peninsula in 1492–97? Why have the Jewish people been one of the most scattered diasporas in world history, living as a minority in cities and towns across the globe for millennia? When, how, and why did the Jews become "the chosen few"?

The Birth and Development of Marine Insurance Contracts and Markets in Medieval Italy
The rise of markets, as well as the development of contracts, institutions, and social norms that enable mutually beneficial transactions among agents, are one of the central themes in the literature on long-term economic growth.

This project (currently funded by an ERC Advanced Research grant) contributes to this literature by studying the birth and development of marine insurance contracts in medieval Italy and their subsequent spread all over Europe. It brings the economic approach to previously unexplored historical data housed in archives in Florence, Genoa, Pisa, Palermo, Prato, and Venice.

The interest in the historical origin and development of marine insurance contracts is twofold. First, marine insurance contracts are the "parents" of all the other insurance contracts (e.g., fire, life, health, etc) that were developed in subsequent centuries to cope with various sources of risk. Second, their invention, as well as other innovations in business practices in the Middle Ages, contributed to the growth of international trade in subsequent centuries.

The key novelty of the project stems from combining contract theory with information from thousands of insurance contracts between 1300 and 1550 to explain why marine insurance developed in medieval Italy and then Europe, to study the empirical determinants of insurance contracts in medieval Italy, and to analyze how medieval merchants coped with adverse selection and moral hazard problems.

Last updated May 24, 2014