The Origins of the World Economy: Europe and Asia, 1000-1800

This information is for the 2020/21 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Jordan Claridge SAR 505 and Prof Patrick Wallis SAR 511


This course is available on the MRes/PhD in Quantitative Economic History, MSc in China in Comparative Perspective, MSc in Economic History, MSc in Economic History (Research), MSc in Empires, Colonialism and Globalisation, MSc in Global Economic History (Erasmus Mundus), MSc in International and Asian History 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

This course surveys long-term processes of growth and development in pre-modern Europe and the wider world. Its central question is how and why economic performance differed between differently structured societies and across societies at the same point in time. The course raises fundamental questions about the nature of pre-industrial societies and economies and it critically examines the numerous theories put forward to explain long-run economic change. 

First, it asks if stagnation and poverty were normal conditions in pre-industrial societies and growth an aberration.  Were societies 'Malthusian', and what kind of growth and development did they experience? Second, it addresses debates over the timing and causes of Western economic growth and its connections with the region’s expanding political and military power.  Was British or European success from the 17th century the result of unique social, institutional, or cultural features? It focuses on the developments of markets and their integration, on the development of technology and on the extension of manufactory in a fundamentally agrarian world. Third, it explores the range of alternative development paths within Europe and in other regions of the world, such as premodern China and India, considering both regions’ internal economic dynamics and the impact of interactions with European powers as contact grew over the course of the early modern period.

The course is not chronologically arranged but rather along core topics relevant in economic history. These are presented and discussed in an explicitly comparative way. Themes include: population, agriculture, technology, manufacturing, labour regimes, economic effects of legal, political, and constitutional structures; political economy; trade and market integration, money, finances and commercial institutions, and the causes and effects of the European expansion overseas.


10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of seminars in the MT. 10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of seminars in the LT.

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 Michaelmas Term and Week 6 of Lent Term.

Formative coursework

Students are expected to write three essays or equivalent pieces of written work.

Indicative reading

J Abu-Lughod, Before European Hegemony: The World System; A G Frank, ReORIENT: Global Economy in the Asian Age (1998); P Hoffman, Why Did Europe Conquer the World? (2015); J E Inikori, Africans and the Industrial Revolution in England (2002); E L Jones, Growth Recurring: Economic Change in World History (2002); J Y Lin, The Needham Puzzle: Why the Industrial Revolution Did Not Originate in China (1995); Joel Mokyr, The Lever of Riches (1990); K G Persson, An Economic History of Europe: Knowledge, Institutions and Growth, 600 to the Present (2010); K Pomeranz, The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy (2000); J Rubin, Rulers, Religion and Riches: Why the West Got Rich and the Middle East Did Not (2017); HJ Voth and N Voigtlander, 'Malthusian Dynamism and the Rise of Europe: Make War, Not Love', American Economic Review (2009); J van Zanden, SG Carmichael, & T De Moor. Capital Women - The European Marriage Pattern, Female Empowerment and Economic Development in Western Europe 1300-1800 (2019); J de Vries, The Limits of Globalization in the Early Modern World (2010); B Wong & J L. Rosenthal, Before and Beyond Divergence (2014)



Exam (70%, duration: 2 hours) in the summer exam period.
Essay (30%, 3000 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: 21

Average class size 2019/20: 11

Controlled access 2019/20: Yes

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