EH421      Half Unit
Economic History of Colonialism

This information is for the 2019/20 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Leigh Gardner SAR 507 and Prof Tirthankar Roy SAR 616


This course is available on the MRes/PhD in Quantitative Economic History, MSc in Economic History, MSc in Economic History (Research), MSc in Empires, Colonialism and Globalisation, MSc in Global Economic History (Erasmus Mundus) and MSc in Political Economy of Late Development. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

Debates about the effects of European colonial rule on the non-European world animated economic history scholarship since the 1850s when Karl Marx published essays on British rule in India in the New York Daily Tribune. The relationship between colonialism and economic development has an important place in a number of distinct literatures in economic history, including work on globalization, divergence, migration, global finance, environmental change, and the shaping of development policy after colonialism. The aim of the course is to introduce the key readings in these themes, build connections between the discourses, and lead students to an informed view of colonialism as a force in shaping the modern world.

The broad topics include, (a) trade and the origins of colonialism (b) institutions and governance; (c) connections forged through trade, investment, migration, and the transfer of knowledge of institutions and technologies, including informal empire; (d) growth of corporate enterprise such as companies, factories, and plantation complexes, and the connection between state power and private enterprise, (e) decolonization, proximity between indigenous business and nationalist politics, the changing power of expatriate capital, and the appeal of new developmental ideology in the interwar period, (f) environmental change, studying a scholarship that sees European empires, alternatively, as catastrophic in their impacts on the environment and as forerunners of governmental regulation of the commons. Seminars compare and contrast the experiences of Asia and Africa.


20 hours of seminars in the LT. 2 hours of seminars in the ST.

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

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to complete an essay and an equivalent assignment during term.

Indicative reading

Acemoglu, D., Johnson, S. and Robinson, J. A. (2001), 'The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation', American Economic Review, 91(5), pp. 1369-1401.

C.A. Bayly (2008), Indigenous and Colonial Origins of Comparative Economic Development, World Bank Policy Working Paper #4474.

Stanley L. Engerman, Kenneth L. Sokoloff, ‘Colonialism, Inequality, and Long-Run Paths of Development,’ NBER Working Paper No. 11057, 2005.



Essay (100%, 5000 words) in the ST.

Key facts

Department: Economic History

Total students 2018/19: 17

Average class size 2018/19: 15

Controlled access 2018/19: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

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