Business and Economic Performance since 1945: Britain in International Context

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Peter Cirenza



This course is available on the BSc in Accounting and Finance, BSc in Economic History, BSc in Economic History and Geography, BSc in Economic History with Economics, BSc in Economics, BSc in Economics and Economic History, BSc in Economics with Economic History, BSc in Management and Diploma in Accounting and Finance. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit and to General Course students.

Course content

The course examines the successes and failures of British business and industry, with an emphasis on the post-World War II period. It examines many of the hypotheses on why the UK economy grew more slowly than other OECD nations during this period. Explanations of relative economic decline are examined in the context of comparisons with other European nations and with the US and Japan. The course is organised to combine economy- wide factors, such as education, management organisation, labour relations, and membership in the EU, with case studies of industries as diverse as cotton, cars, banking and steel. By interacting themes and case studies, students get a sense of how national policies interact with business opportunities, and how governments can both aid and harm business. They also get a sense of why much – but not all – of British business history in the post-war period has been characterised as one of relative decline. The main attention is on the post-war period, including current changes in performance, but the historical roots of Britain's recent performance are also considered.


This course is delivered through a combination of classes and lectures totalling a minimum of 40 hours across Michaelmas Term and Lent Term. This year, some or all of this teaching will be delivered through a combination of virtual classes and flipped-lectures delivered as short online videos. This course includes a reading week in Week 6 of MT and LT.

Formative coursework


During the course students are expected to write three essays or equivalent pieces of written work.


Indicative reading

The main work used in the course is G. Owen, From Empire to Europe: The Decline and Revival of British Industry since the Second World War (2000). The following are also useful: S. Broadberry, The productivity race: British manufacturing in international perspective 1850-1990 (1997), R Floud & P Johnson (Eds), The Cambridge economic history of modern Britain: structural change and growth, 1939-2000 (2004),  B Elbaum & W Lazonick (Eds), The Decline of the British Economy (1986), M. Blackford, The rise of modern business: Great Britain, the United States, Germany, Japan, and China (2008).


Exam (70%, duration: 2 hours) in the summer exam period.
Research project (30%) in the LT.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2020/21 academic year some variation to teaching and learning activities may be required to respond to changes in public health advice and/or to account for the situation of students in attendance on campus and those studying online during the early part of the academic year. For assessment, this may involve changes to mode of delivery and/or the format or weighting of assessments. Changes will only be made if required and students will be notified about any changes to teaching or assessment plans at the earliest opportunity.

Key facts

Department: Economic History

Total students 2019/20: 72

Average class size 2019/20: 10

Capped 2019/20: No

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