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Economic history


Economic history is concerned with understanding the process of change in the past. It is an interdisciplinary, evidence-based and research-driven approach to the study of history.

It uses concepts, theories and skills from a broad range of social sciences to study historical issues including: why nations experience economic growth or fall behind, the causes of population change and migration, why financial crises occur, the economic and social effects of warfare, the history of economic development throughout the world, the role of education and human capital in economic change, the effect of business organisation on economic performance, and change in social behaviour in the past.

The Economic History Department has the largest group of teachers and researchers in the field of economic, business and social history in the UK. Its renowned faculty hail from many parts of the world and offer a complete training regime from undergraduate degrees through to PhD and post-doctoral studies.

The Department offers a collegial, welcoming and supportive environment to its students. Opportunities for academic and social interaction outside of regular classroom hours occur on weekly basis during term time.

Features of LSE courses

Our courses offer a broad understanding of the past and seek to make sense of the present. We offer a wide range of subjects, geographical areas, time periods and levels of quantitative expertise. All of our students also complete a research project in their third year. This capstone project allows students to undertake an original piece of research on a topic of their choosing, with strong support from faculty advisers throughout the process.

Our courses emphasise a diversity of skills: critical reading, writing essays, undertaking research, performing analyses, making presentations, and class participation. This wide range of skills makes our graduates highly desirable to a broad range of employers.

Degree structure

You may take a degree in economic history at LSE in a number of ways: in a single honours degree, in a joint honours degree with economics, or as a major subject with a minor in economics. You may also take economic history as a minor subject with economics as a major (see Economics).

All degrees involve studying 12 courses over the three years, plus LSE100.

What the selectors are looking for in an application

The selectors are looking for academic students with a flair for social sciences, thus many applicants will be studying subjects such as history, economics, government and/or geography. Applicants should note that at least one essay-based subject is essential. Applicants for the joint degree programmes must also demonstrate outstanding mathematical ability and have attained or be completing Mathematics at A level (or equivalent). 

Your personal statement should outline your enthusiasm and passion for economic history, and explain your motivation for studying your chosen programme. You should mention whether there are any aspects of particular interest to you, how it relates to your current academic programme and what additional reading or similar experiences you have had which have led you to apply. The selectors want to see evidence of your interest in history and are looking for students who show awareness of the links between history, economics and social change. 

Personal characteristics and skills that will be useful to students in their study of economic history, either on its own or combined with economics include the abilities to be flexible in approaching problems, to think independently, apply logic and draw reasoned and balanced conclusions. Additionally, applicants for the combined programmes with economics will be expected to demonstrate strong statistical competence and to be able to follow complex lines of mathematical reasoning. As with all LSE programmes, you should possess good communication skills, intellectual curiosity, and have the motivation and capacity for hard work. 

Your personal statement should be balanced in accordance with the particular programme you are applying for; ie, if applying for the joint honours programme, you should demonstrate your equal interest in both subjects.

Please visit lse.ac.uk/ug/apply/ech for further information about admissions criteria.

Teaching and assessment

You will have 8 to 10 hours of timetabled classes per week. As well as lectures, all courses are taught in small weekly discussion groups led by a member of staff. You will usually have to present about four papers or essays for each course, as well as making class presentations. You will have an academic adviser who will advise on course choices, offer general guidance and assistance with both academic and personal concerns and help with your project.

The 10,000 word research project is counted as one course out of the eight in the second and third years. Our compulsory second-year course has a 3,000 word project as part of the final assessment, worth 30 per cent of the final mark. All other courses are assessed by means of formal three-hour examinations.

Preliminary reading

If you wish to gain further insight into the subject, we suggest that you look at one or more of the following books:

  • R C Allen The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective (Cambridge University Press, 2009)
  • G M Austin Markets, Slaves and States in West African History (c.1450 – present) (Cambridge University Press, 2013)
  • S Broadberry and K H O’Rourke (eds.) The Cambridge Economic History of Modern Europe (Cambridge University Press, 2010)
  • G Clark A Farewell to Alms: a brief economic history of the world (Princeton University Press, 2007)
  • N F R Crafts and P Fearon The Great Depression of the 1930s: lessons for today (Oxford University Press, 2013)
  • S L Engerman and K L Sokoloff Economic Development in the Americas since 1500: endowments and institutions (Cambridge University Press, 2012)
  • D C North, J J Wallis and B Weingast Violence and Social Orders: a conceptual framework for interpreting recorded human history (Cambridge University Press, 2009)
  • K H O’Rourke and J G Williamson Globalization and History: the evolution of a nineteenth century Atlantic economy (MIT Press, 1999)
  • K Pomeranz The Great Divergence: China, Europe and the making of the modern world economy (Princeton University Press, 2000)
  • B Yun-Casalilla and P K O’Brien The Rise of Fiscal States: a global history, 1500–1914 (Cambridge University Press, 2011)

Graduate destinations

Our graduates can be found in senior positions throughout many professions, in the City, NGOs, the civil service and government.