Not available in 2020/21
EH428      Half Unit
History of Economics: Making Political Economy into a Social Science

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Mr Patrick Wells


This course is available on the MRes/PhD in Accounting (AOI) (Accounting, Organisations and Institutions Track), MSc in Economic History, MSc in Economic History (Research), MSc in Economics and Philosophy, MSc in Global Economic History (Erasmus Mundus), MSc in International and World History (LSE & Columbia), MSc in Philosophy of the Social Sciences 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

The course aim is to understand how the nature of economics changed from the verbally argued accounts of political economy and moral philosophy in the 18th century to become a technical social science by the end of the 20th century.

The course will explore the long-term changes over two hundred years in how economists came to know things about the economy by examining the history of their notion of the laws of economics, their analytical practices, and the evidence they used. Primary texts, chosen from a variety of European and American authors, will provide material for the study of these changes. Secondary literature will provide theoretical resources from history and philosophy of science to help analyse, understand and assess these changes in the nature of economics as a science.


20 hours of seminars in the MT.

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

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to write two essays or equivalent pieces of written work.

Indicative reading

The main domain of the course material is explained in "Economics" in T.M.Porter and D.Ross The Cambridge History of Science, Vol 7, The Modern Social Sciences, pp 275-305 (Cambridge University Press), while a key secondary text is Mary Morgan’s “The world in the model: how economists work and think” (Cambridge University Press 2012).

A very readable introduction to the history of economics is Robert Heilbroner’s “The Worldly Philosophers” (various editions, Penguin); a more detailed background text is Henry Spiegel's “The Growth of Economic Thought” (various editions, Duke University Press).

Full reading lists will be given out at the beginning of the course.


Essay (100%, 5000 words) 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: 6

Average class size 2019/20: 6

Controlled access 2019/20: Yes

Value: Half 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