Pre-Modern Paths of Growth: Europe and the Wider World, 11th to 19th Centuries

This information is for the 2016/17 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Oliver Volckart SAR 610 and Dr Maria Irigoin SAR 611


This course is available on the MA Global Studies: A European Perspective, MRes in Quantitative Economic History, MSc in China in Comparative Perspective, MSc in Economic History, MSc in Economic History (Research), MSc in Empires, Colonialism and Globalisation and MSc in Global History. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

This course surveys long-term processes of growth and development in pre-modern Europe and the wider world. The course raises fundamental questions about the nature of pre-industrial societies and economies.  First, it asks if stagnation and poverty were normal conditions in pre-industrial societies and growth an aberration.  Were societies 'Malthusian', and what kind of growth and development did they experience? Second, it addresses debates over the origins of European industrialisation.  Why was Britain first? Was British success from the 17th century the result of unique social, institutional, or cultural features?Was it the outcome of a centuries-long, cumulative process of change that relied as much on inputs from the rest of Europe and the wider world as much as specifically domestic features? Or was it the result of a 'fortunate conjuncture'?  Third, it draws parallels for a comparison of development paths within European and beyond in those regions were Europeans got into contact in the course of the early modern period.  The approach throughout is thematic.  Themes include: population, agriculture, technology, manufacturing, labour regimes, economic effects of legal, political, and constitutional structures; political economy; trade and market integration, money, finances and commercial institutions, and the causes and effects of the European expansion overseas.


10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of seminars in the MT. 10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of seminars in the LT. 1 hour of lectures in the ST.

2-hour meetings weekly, with a flexible combination of lectures and seminars in MT and LT.

Students on this course will have a reading week in Week 6 of each term, in line with departmental policy.

Formative coursework

All students are expected to write four essays: one by the end of the fifth week of the MT, one by the end of the ninth week of the MT, one by end of the fifth week of the LT, and one by the end of the ninth week of the LT.

Indicative reading

E L Jones, Growth Recurring: economic change in world history (1988; 2nd ed., 2002); D North, Structure and Change in Economic History (1981); H Miskimin, The Economy of Early Renaissance Europe, 1300-1460 (1969); K G Persson, An Economic History of Europe: Knowledge, Institutions and Growth, 600 to the Present (2010); J De Vries, The Economy of Europe in an age of crisis, 1600-1750 (1976); K Pomeranz, The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the making of the modern world economy (2000); A G Frank, ReORIENT: Global economy in the Asian age (1998); J E Inikori, Africans and the Industrial Revolution in England (2002); J Lockhart and S B Schwartz, Early Latin America: a history of colonial Spanish America and Brazil (1983/2005); S L Engerman and R E Gallman, The Cambridge Economic History of the United States, Vol. 1 (1996); V Bulmer-Thomas, J H Coatsworth and R Cortes Conde, The Cambridge economic history of Latin America, Vol. 1 (2008)


Exam (100%, duration: 3 hours) in the main exam period.

Teachers' comment

Survey questions on feedback to students may be non-informative because assessed work comes later in the term than the survey.

Key facts

Department: Economic History

Total students 2015/16: 23

Average class size 2015/16: 11

Controlled access 2015/16: Yes

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Application of numeracy skills
  • Specialist skills

Course survey results

(2012/13 - 2014/15 combined)

1 = "best" score, 5 = "worst" score

The scores below are average responses.

Response rate: 91%



Reading list (Q2.1)


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