The Origins of the Modern World: Europe, China and India, 1600-1800

This information is for the 2017/18 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Gagandeep Sood SAR 2.07


This course is available on the MSc in Empires, Colonialism and Globalisation, MSc in History of International Relations, MSc in International Affairs (LSE and Peking University), MSc in International and World History (LSE & Columbia) and MSc in Theory and History of International Relations. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

This course is about the developments which led to the emergence of our modern world. A variety of conditions have been highlighted by historians as responsible for this, including property rights, political and military conflict, family patterns, empirical rationality, conquest and exploitation, land administration, and sheer accident or contingency. Although scholarly consensus on the leading-edge conditions still eludes us, there is broad agreement that the polities of northwestern Europe, eastern China and northern India played critical roles, and that the main step change occurred in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The course focuses as a result on Mughal India, Qing China, the Dutch Republic and Early Modern Britain, and on the relations between them.

We will address these polities and relations from two distinct but complementary perspectives. These perspectives frame the two terms of the course. One is historiographical and pivots on the interpretations of key scholars, the other is historical and builds on our best current knowledge of Eurasia in the period. In the Michaelmas Term, we will examine the grand narratives that have been elaborated by historians to make sense of the step change which occurred in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Each crystallises a specific set of conditions and gives primacy to different polities of Eurasia, with a particular stress on Mughal India, Qing China, the Dutch Republic and/or Early Modern Britain. In examining these narratives, we will gain familiarity with the significant developments associated with the four polities, and how they have been interpreted by scholars more generally. In the Lent Term, we will draw on and critique their interpretations as we examine in a comparative framework the ways in which the four polities attempted to solve the near-universal problems faced by all complex states and societies. The extent to which the solutions were successful in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries had a direct bearing on relations between Europe, China and India, and their future trajectory. By juxtaposing the perspectives of grand narratives and near-universal problems, we will engage with both the received paradigms and the salient historical contexts. In so doing, we will fashion our own understanding of the origins of the modern world.


20 hours of seminars in the MT. 20 hours of seminars in the LT.

There will be a reading week in both the MT and the LT. As no prior knowledge of the course’s subject is either assumed or required, it is essential for students to do the set readings and assignments, attend the seminars and engage actively in discussion. It is also strongly recommended that students meet informally outside the class setting to compare notes and learn from each other.

Formative coursework

A 3500-word essay will be due towards the end of MT on a question selected from an approved list supplied at the start of the course. For each week, there will be a core reading which provides the necessary background and further readings selected in consultation with the instructor. These tasks will be supplemented with occasional short response papers to be posted on Moodle before the weekly seminars and unassessed oral presentations during the seminars themselves.

Indicative reading

For general surveys, students may consult: David B. Abernethy, The Dynamics of Global Dominance: European Overseas Empires, 1415-1980 (New Haven, CT, 2000); Christopher A. Bayly, The Birth of the Modern World, 1780-1914: Global Connections and Comparisons (Oxford, 2004); John Darwin, After Tamerlane: The Global History of Empire (London, 2007).

Signal contributions to the subject include: Fernand Braudel, Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century, 3 vols (New York, 1981-1984); Marshall G. S. Hodgson, Rethinking World History: Essays on Europe, Islam, and World history (Cambridge, 1993); Antony G. Hopkins (ed.), Globalization in World History (London, 2002); Victor Lieberman, Strange Parallels: Southeast Asia in Global Context, c. 800-1830, 2 vols (Cambridge, 2003-2009); Geoffrey Parker, Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century (New Haven, NH, 2013); Kenneth Pomeranz, Great Divergence: Europe, China and the Making of the Modern World Economy (Princeton, NJ, 2000).


Essay (35%, 3500 words) in the LT.
Essay (35%, 3500 words) in the ST.
Presentation (15%) in the MT.
Class participation (15%) in the MT and LT.

Assessment will be via seminar participation (15%), one oral presentation accompanied by an annotated bibliography (15%), and two 3500-word essays (35% each). A formative essay will be due in MT to help prepare for the assessed essays. The first assessed essay will be due in Week 8 of LT, the second in Week 1 of ST. Essay questions will be selected from an approved list supplied at the start of the course.

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2016/17: Unavailable

Average class size 2016/17: Unavailable

Controlled access 2016/17: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

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