Genesis of the Modern World: Europe, China and India, 1550-1840

This information is for the 2021/22 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Gagan D. S. Sood SAR 2.07


This course is available on the MA in Asian and International History (LSE and NUS), MA in Modern History, MSc in Empires, Colonialism and Globalisation, MSc in History of International Relations, MSc in International Affairs (LSE and Peking University), MSc in International and Asian History, MSc in International and World History (LSE & Columbia) and MSc in Theory and History of International Relations. This course is available with permission as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

This course is about the developments that led to the emergence of our modern world. A variety of conditions have been highlighted by historians as responsible for this, including government reform, agricultural practices, empirical rationality, consumption patterns, military conflict, property rights, family arrangements, territorial conquest, revenue administration, and sheer accident. Although scholarly consensus on the leading-edge conditions still eludes us, there is broad agreement that the polities of northwestern Europe, eastern China and northern India played critical roles, and that the fateful step change occurred between the late sixteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

We examine these polities and the relations between them from two distinct but complementary perspectives. These perspectives define the two terms of the course. One is historiographical and centres on received interpretive frameworks, the other is historical and builds on our best current knowledge of Eurasia in the period. In Michaelmas Term, we study the most influential paradigms and narratives which have been elaborated by historians to make sense of the early modern step change which transformed the capacities of human endeavour. Each crystallises a specific set of structures and gives primacy to different polities of Eurasia, with a particular stress on Early Modern England and the English Atlantic, Late Ming and High Qing China, and Mughal and post-Mughal India. In studying these frameworks, we gain familiarity with the most significant attributes of these polities, and how they have been interpreted by scholars. In Lent Term, we study the ways in which the individual polities of the three regions addressed the near-universal problems marking all complex states and societies. The solutions to these problems - grouped under the rubric of ‘centralised institutions & ideology of rule’, ‘indirect rule & political economy’, and ‘plurality, them & us’ - powerfully shaped their future trajectories, and had a direct bearing on relations between Europe, China and India. By recovering the most consequential structures and solutions over the two terms of this course, we thereby seek to apprehend the genesis of the modern world.


The School aims to run in-person seminars, subject to circumstances, with some online provision if and where necessary. There will be a reading week in the MT and the LT.

As no prior knowledge of the course’s subject is either assumed or required, it is essential for students to do the set readings and assignments, attend the seminars and engage actively in discussion. It is also strongly recommended that students meet informally outside the class setting to compare notes and learn from each other.

Formative coursework

A 3000-word essay will be due towards the end of MT on a historiographical topic decided in consultation with the instructor. Each week, students will work through one or more core readings which provide important background information, as well as selected further readings in line with their developing interests. These tasks will be supplemented with short response papers/memos to be posted on Moodle before the weekly seminars and unassessed debates and oral presentations during the seminars themselves.

Indicative reading

For general surveys, students may consult:


• David B. Abernethy, The Dynamics of Global Dominance: European Overseas Empires, 1415-1980 (New Haven, CT, 2000)

• Christopher A. Bayly, The Birth of the Modern World, 1780-1914: Global Connections and Comparisons (Oxford, 2004)

• John Darwin, After Tamerlane: The Global History of Empire (London, 2007)


Signal contributions to the subject include:


• Fernand Braudel, Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th Century, 3 vols (New York, 1981-1984)

• Marshall G. S. Hodgson, Rethinking World History: Essays on Europe, Islam, and World History (Cambridge, UK, 1993)

• Antony G. Hopkins (ed.), Globalization in World History (London, 2002)

• Victor Lieberman, Strange Parallels: Southeast Asia in Global Context, c. 800-1830, 2 vols (Cambridge, UK, 2003-2009)

• Geoffrey Parker, Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century (New Haven, NH, 2013)

• Kenneth Pomeranz, Great Divergence: Europe, China and the Making of the Modern World Economy (Princeton, NJ, 2000)

• Bartolomé Yun-Casalilla & Patrick K. O’Brien (eds), The Rise of Fiscal States: A Global History, 1500-1914 (Cambridge, UK, 2012)


Essay (40%, 4000 words) in the LT.
Essay (45%, 4000 words) in the ST.
Class participation (15%) in the MT and LT.

Assessment will be via course participation (15%) and two 4000-word essays (40% and 45%, respectively). Students will be required to submit a formative essay in MT and an essay plan in LT as preparation for the assessed essays. The first assessed essay will be due in Week 9 of LT, the second in Week 1 of ST. The questions for these essays will be selected from an approved list supplied at the start of the course.

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: International History

Total students 2020/21: Unavailable

Average class size 2020/21: Unavailable

Controlled access 2020/21: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

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