Together with introducing a set of key innovations in commercial practices, the merchant-bankers of the commercial revolution of the 13th century were also the first European economic agents to adopt Hindu-Arabic numerals. As practical arithmetic provided the mathematical foundation for commercial innovations, studying its European spread provides a particularly suitable angle to study the diffusion of practical knowledge in the pre-modern period. Italy was the early adopter of these techniques, while in England these practices became widespread at the onset of the little divergence. In this paper, I discuss in comparative perspective the social diffusion of this knowledge in Italy and England, and its wider impact. On the one hand, this analysis makes it possible to show a number of parallels between the trajectories followed by these societies. On the other hand, it allows to observe the complex interactions between practical knowledge and wider economic, institutional, and social changes.
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