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

This information is for the 2022/23 session.

Teacher responsible

Dr Gagandeep 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 which 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 changes 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 the period. In Michaelmas Term, we study the most influential paradigms and narratives elaborated by historians to make sense of the early modern step change that 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 faced by all complex states and societies. The solutions to these problems - grouped under the rubric of ‘centralised institutions & sovereign ideology’, ‘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.


20 hours of seminars in the MT. 20 hours of seminars in the LT.

There will be a reading week in week 6 of 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 reading responses/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.

Key facts

Department: International History

Total students 2021/22: 11

Average class size 2021/22: 11

Controlled access 2021/22: Yes

Value: One Unit

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Personal development skills

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