Pre-Modern Paths of Growth: East and West Compared, c1000-1800/1900

This information is for the 2015/16 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Kent Deng SAR 605 and Prof Lars Boerner SAR 505


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, China and Japan. 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. What kind of growth and development did 'Malthusian' societies experience? Second, it addresses debates over European industrialisation. Why was Britain first? Was British success from the late 18th 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 as much as specifically domestic features? Or was it the result of a 'fortunate conjuncture'? Third, it makes an in-depth comparison of three major geo-economic regions (Europe, China and Japan) over seven centuries. It discusses recent research that suggests that parts of pre-modern Asia were as developed (in terms of living standards, agricultural productivity, commerce) as the more advanced regions of modern Europe, and asks if there were more than one 'premodern paths of growth'. In the MT we focus on Europe; during the LT, on China and Japan. The approach throughout is thematic. Themes include: agriculture, population, urbanisation, technology, urban and rural industry, economic effects of legal, political and constitutional structure; political economy and taxation; warfare; trade and market integration, causes and effects of European expansion.


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.

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

M Olson, 'Big bills left on the sidewalk: why some nations are rich, and others poor', Journal of Economic Perspectives, 10:2 (1996); E L Jones, Growth Recurring: economic change in world history (1988; 2nd edn, 2002); M Mann, The Sources of Social Power, Vol I (1987); D North & R Thomas, The Rise of the Western World (1973); K G Persson, Pre-industrial Economic Growth (1988); I Wallerstein, Historical Capitalism (1983); P Anderson, Lineages of the Absolutist State (1974); T Aston & C Philpin (Eds), The Brenner Debate: agrarian class structure and economic development in pre-industrial Europe (1985); S R Epstein, Freedom and growth. The rise of states and markets in Europe 1300-1750 (2000); J De Vries, The Economy of Europe in an age of crisis, 1600-1750 (1976); G Deng, The Premodern Chinese Economy (1999); T C Smith, The Agrarian Origins of Modern Japan (1959); 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).


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 2014/15: 28

Average class size 2014/15: 14

Controlled access 2014/15: 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

(2011/12 - 2013/14 combined)

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

The scores below are average responses.

Response rate: 89.4%



Reading list (Q2.1)


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