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Essential Readings in Economic History


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme. Students from within the specialization the course belongs to have right of way. It is not accessible for BA students.


Economic development, whether viewed as growth, increasing prosperity, or modernization, is closely related to the functioning of markets. Markets can be domestic places of exchange but can also form a meeting place for different countries or ethnic groups. Markets did not at all times function freely and without government invention. Often, government intervention stimulated or supported economic growth, but at other times, forms of institutional sclerosis hindered the expansion of markets.

In this course we start with the debate on the historical circumstances that precluded sustained economic growth, the expansion of capitalism and the rise of the western world. Next, we discuss industrialization and the development of business and entrepreneurship during the Liberal Era (1870-1914), followed by the period of increasing regulation and trade barriers (1914-1945).

In the post-war global economic development two major trends can be discerned: an increasing liberalization of capital and trade flows, and the simultaneous development of global institutions regulating the world economy. We examine these developments taking the perspective of different regions. We will look at the postwar development of capitalism, review the welfare state and reflect upon the differences between advanced capitalist economies.

Course objectives

General learning objectives

The student has acquired:

  1. The ability to analyse and evaluate literature with a view to addressing a particular historical problem;

  2. The ability to give a clear and well-founded oral and written report on research results in correct English, when required, or Dutch, meeting the criteria of the discipline;

  3. The ability to provide constructive feedback to and formulate criticism of the work of others and the ability to evaluate the value of such criticism and feedback on one’s own work and incorporate it;

  4. The ability to participate in current debates in the specialisation;

  5. (ResMA only:) The ability to participate in a discussion of the theoretical foundations of the discipline.

Learning objectives, pertaining to the specialisation

The student has acquired:

  1. Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subtracks as well as of the historiography of the specialisation, focusing particularly on the following;
    -in the subtrack Economic History: the origin and outcomes of the Great Divergence, developments in political economy since ca 1600, increasing global interdependence throughout the centuries, the development of global governance in the twentieth century, as well as the most important debates in recent Economic History.

  2. (ResMA only): Thorough knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical foundation of the discipline and of its position vis-à-vis other disciplines.

Learning objectives, pertaining to this Literature Seminar

The student:

  1. Has knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical, conceptual and methodological aspects of the specialisation, more specifically (for the Economic History subtrack): the application of economic concepts, research methods or models; insight into the argumentation of current debates;

  2. Has knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical foundation of the discipline and of its position vis a vis other disciplines;

  3. Is informed about and take part in the on-going historical debate on this subject.


The timetables are available through MyTimetable.

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance)

This means that students must attend every session of the course. Students who are unable to attend must notify the lecturer beforehand. The teacher will determine if and how the missed session can be compensated by an additional assignment. If specific restrictions apply to a particular course, the lecturer will notify the students at the beginning of the semester. If a student does not comply with the aforementioned requirements, the student will be excluded from the seminar.

Assessment method


  • Written essay(s)
    measured learning objectives: 1-2, 7-9

  • Oral presentation and active participation in class
    measured learning objectives: 1-5, 8, 10

  • Final essay/book review
    measured learning objectives: 5-10


  • Written essay(s): 60%

  • Oral presentation and active participation: 10%

  • Final essay/book review: 30%

The final grade for the course is established by determining the weighted average with the additional requirement that all components must be sufficient.


Assignments and written papers should be handed in within the deadline as provided in the relevant course outline on Brightspace.


Should the overall mark be unsatisfactory, the paper is to be revised after consultation with the instructor.

Inspection and feedback

How and when a review of the written paper will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the results, a review of the written paper will have to be organised. 

Reading list

Week 1

  1. Alexandra M. de Pleijt, Jan Luiten van Zanden, Accounting for the “Little Divergence”: What drove economic growth in pre-industrial Europe, 1300–1800?, European Review of Economic History, Volume 20, Issue 4, 11 November 2016, Pages 387–409,
    2.Robert C Allen, The Great Divergence in European Wages and Prices from the Middle Ages to the First World War, Explorations in Economic History,Volume 38, Issue 4, 2001, pp 411-447,
  2. Robert C. Allen, Jean-Pascal Bassino, Debin Ma, Christine oll-Murata, Jan Luiten van Zanden, ’Wages, prices, and living standards in China, 1738–1925: in comparison with Europe, Japan, and India’ Economic History Review 64, S1 (2011), pp. 8–38 First published: 04 January 2011,
  3. Patrick Karl O'Brien, (2020) The Economies of Imperial China and Western Europe Book Subtitle Debating the Great Divergence, Chapter 1 'Historiographical Context and Bibliographical Guide', pp 1-15.

Week 2

  1. Tine de Moor and Jan Luiten van Zanden, ‘Girl Power: the European Marriage Pattern and Labour Markets in the North Sea Region in the Late Medieval and Early Modern Period’, The Economic History Review, 63-1 (2010), 1-33;
  2. Tracy Dennison and Sheilagh Ogilvie, ‘Does the European Marriage Pattern Explain Economic Growth?’, The Journals of Economic History, 74-3 (2014), 651-693;
  3. Sarah Carmichael, Alexandra de Pleijt, Jan Luiten van Zanden and Tine de Moor, ‘The European Marriage Pattern and its Measurements’, The Journal of Economic History, 76-1 (2016), 196-204.

Week 3

Jan de Vries, Industrious Revolution Consumer Behavior and the Household Economy, 1650 to the Present (Cambridge 2008).

Week 4

Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, Why Nations Fail. The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty (New York: Profile Books Ltd, 2013).

Week 5

Dani Rodrik, The Globalization Paradox: Democracy and the Future of the World Economy (W.W. Norton, New York and London, 2011).

Week 6

Peter H. Lindert, Growing Public: Social Spending and Economic Growth since the Eighteenth Century. Volume 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).

Week 7

Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 2017)


Enrolment through MyStudyMap is mandatory.


  • For course related questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Huizinga.


Not applicable.