Not available in 2022/23
Economic History Lab: Cities, Economy and Society, 1550-1750

This information is for the 2022/23 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Patrick Wallis SAR 5.11


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

Course content

This course examines the economic and social history of European cities and towns between 1550 and 1750, with a specific research focus on the history of London. During these two centuries, cities in north west Europe grew rapidly. London in particular experienced explosive growth, transforming from a minor industrial and commercial centre to the hub of a global trading network and the primary port of a global empire. In this course, we explore the ways in which urban development contributed to wider changes in economy and society and how cities and towns were themselves transformed in the process.

The taught section of the course covers a set of key issues in the economic and social history of cities and towns in the period, including the connection between cities and economic development; urban hierarchies and networks; the organisation of urban economies; cities and trade; urban-rural relations; urban institutions and economic development; towns and the state; social structure and social mobility; and standards of living.

In the research section of the course students will participate in a research lab engaging in primary historical research into the economic and social history of London. The focus of the lab will be defined each year to engage students on work on one or more significant topics in current academic research. Students will work collectively with the course teacher to identify research questions, design research strategies, collect primary evidence, analyse this and write up their results. The findings of the lab’s collective research will be disseminated through working papers, publications and a data depository.


5 hours of lectures, 5 hours of classes, 10 hours of workshops and 5 hours of workshops in the MT. 5 hours of lectures, 5 hours of classes, 10 hours of workshops and 5 hours of workshops in the LT.

This course will be capped at 15 students. 

The course begins in MT with 5 weeks devoted to lectures (1 hour) and classes (1 hour) to introduce core issues in the economic and social history of early modern cities.  At the end of this cluster of teaching students will prepare a literature review essay on one of the themes, comparing London and one other European town or city.

During these weeks, students will be given additional instruction on how to read early modern handwriting, through an additional workshop in week 2 and online self-study.

We start the lab section in the second half of Michaelmas Term. The subject of the first lab period will be broadly defined by the course convenor, with students helping to define the exact focus of the sub-projects they will work on. During the lab, students will have one two-hour seminar each week. In addition, in week 8, we will have at least one additional archival research sessions of five hours held at the relevant site.

The Lent Term mirrors the first, except that we begin with the second research project in the first half of the term, in order to avoid a clash between the research paper and dissertations. The final sessions of the term will focus on developing comparative perspectives on the topic.

Formative coursework

All students are expected to write one formative essay in MT and participate in two group presentations (MT and LT) to receive feedback on their projects and analysis before they write up their results.

Indicative reading

  • Friedrichs, C. The Early Modern European City 1450-1750 (1985)
  • Cowan, A. Urban Europe, 1500–1700 (1998). 
  • Hohenberg, P.M. and L.H. Lees,  The Making of Urban Europe, 1000-1994 (1995).
  • Nicholas, D.: Urban Europe, 1100-1700 (2002).
  • Epstein & Prak, Guilds, Innovation and the European Economy, 1400-1800 (2008)


Essay (25%, 2500 words) and project (45%, 3000 words) in the LT.
Project (30%, 3000 words) in the MT.

Key facts

Department: Economic History

Total students 2021/22: Unavailable

Average class size 2021/22: Unavailable

Capped 2021/22: No

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

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Personal development skills

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