The Coevolution of Culture and Institutions in Seventeenth Century England

Peter Murrell (University of Maryland)
Martin Schmidt (University of Maryland)

Abstract: Little is known about how cultural and institutional development interact over time. To study this process, we construct new annual measures of cultural dynamics and institutional development for a paradigmatic episode of change, seventeenth century England. The institutional measures reflect citations of cases and statutes in later legal decisions, thereby capturing the growth of formal legal institutions weighted by usage. The cultural measures reflect frequency of word use in publications, interpreted using a model of social learning that elucidates the relationship between cultural diffusion and word frequency. Institutional development takes place over the whole period that we study (1559-1714). Especially fecund years are from the mid-1580's to the mid-1620's and from 1660-1680. There is no indication that the Glorious Revolution of 1688 spurred institutional development. The diffusion of modern ('whig') political culture is much more concentrated in time than is institutional development. Until 1640, the diffusion of whig culture is limited, but then dramatic change occurs, with over half of the cultural diffusion that we focus upon completed by 1660. The process of cultural change was largely completed by the time of the major changes in constitutional legislation of the late 17th century. Vector-error-correction estimates of the relationships in the annual data suggest that culture and case-law coevolve but that statute law is a product of the other two.

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