EH421      Half Unit
Economic History of Colonialism

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Tirthankar Roy SAR 616 and Dr Leigh Gardner SAR 507


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.

This course has a limited number of places (it is controlled access).  In previous years we have been able to provide places for all students that apply, but that may not continue to be the case.

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.

This course is delivered through a combination of classes and lectures totalling a minimum of 20 hours across Lent Term. This year, while we are planning for most classes and seminars to be delivered in-person, it is possible that some or all of this teaching may have to be delivered virtually.  Lectures will either be recorded or given in the form of live webinars.

This course includes a reading week in Week 6 of Lent Term.

Formative coursework

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

Indicative reading

The primary reading for the course will be:

Leigh Gardner and Tirthankar Roy, Economic History of Colonialism (Bristol, 2020)

Other indicative readings include:

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.

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Important information in response to COVID-19

Please note that during 2021/22 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 differing needs of students in attendance on campus and those who might be studying online. For example, this may involve changes to the mode of teaching 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 2020/21: 17

Average class size 2020/21: 9

Controlled access 2020/21: Yes

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

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