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

This information is for the 2018/19 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Gagan D. S. 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 government reform, agricultural practices, empirical rationality, consumption patterns, military conflict, property rights, family arrangements, territorial conquest, revenue administration, and sheer accident. 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 fateful step change occurred between the seventeenth and early nineteenth centuries.

We will examine the main polities of these regions - Early Modern Britain, Qing China and Mughal India - and the relations between them from two distinct but complementary perspectives, which define the two terms of the course. One is historiographical and centres on received interpretive frameworks, the other is historical and builds on our best current knowledge of Eurasia in the period. In the Michaelmas Term, we will study the paradigms and narratives that have been elaborated by historians to make sense of the step change which occurred from the seventeenth century. Each crystallises a specific set of structures and gives primacy to different polities of Eurasia, with a particular stress on Early Modern Britain, Qing China and/or Mughal India. In studying these frameworks, we will gain familiarity with the most significant attributes of these polities, and how they have been interpreted by scholars for their general import. In the Lent Term, we will study the ways in which the three polities addressed the near-universal problems faced in all complex states and societies. The solutions that were historically proposed, attempted and enacted powerfully shaped their future trajectories, and had a direct bearing on relations between Europe, China and India. By recovering the most consequential structures and solutions over the two terms of this course, there then arises the prospect of apprehending 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 3000-word essay will be due towards the end of MT on a historiographical topic decided in consultation with the instructor. Each week, students will work through a core reading that provides important background information, as well as selected further readings in line with their developing interests. These tasks will be supplemented with short response papers or memos to be posted on Moodle before the weekly seminars and unassessed debates and 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 (40%, 4000 words) in the LT.
Essay (45%, 4000 words) in the ST.
Class participation (15%) in the MT and LT.

Assessment will be via course participation (15%) and two 4000-word essays (40% and 45%, respectively). Students will be required to submit a formative essay in MT and an essay plan in LT as preparation for the assessed essays. The first assessed essay will be due in Week 8 of LT, the second in Week 1 of ST. The questions for these essays will be selected from an approved list supplied at the start of the course.

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2017/18: 9

Average class size 2017/18: 9

Controlled access 2017/18: Yes

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