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Key Issues in Economic History


Admission requirements



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

  • Develop background knowledge and skills to conduct research in economic history.

  • Gain insight in developments and debates in economic development.

  • Be informed and take part in the on-going historical debate on this subject.

  • Special attention will be paid to the origin of the Great Divergence, developments in the political economy, the rise of global governance in the twentieth century, and global interdependence through the ages.


See here.

Mode of instruction

Literature seminar.

Course Load

  • Hours spent on attending classes: 8 × 2 = 16 hours.

  • Reading weekly literature assignment (150-240 pp à 5-8 pp. per hour): 7 × 30 = 210 hours.

  • Writing weekly assignment: 7 × 3 = 21 hours.

  • Reading an additional book for the book review: 23 hours.

  • Writing final book review: 10 hours.

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours is 280 hours

Assessment method

Students will be required to:

  • Write short-essays weekly.

  • Make an oral presentation.

  • Write a book review.



Reading list

Week 1:
Patrick O’Brien, ‘A critical review of a tradition of meta-narratives from Adam Smith to Karl Pomeranz’, P. C. Emmer, O. Pétré-Grenouilleau & J. V. Roitman (eds.), A Deus ex Machina revisited. Atlantic colonial trade and European economic development (Leiden 2006) 5-20.

Kenneth Pomeranz & Steven Topik (eds.), The World that Trade Created: Society, Culture and the World Economy, 1400 to the present (Armonk, 2006).

Week 2:
Jean-Laurent Rosenthal & R. Bin Wong, Before and Beyond Divergence. The Politics of Economic Change in China and Europe (Cambridge, 2011)

Week 3:
Robert C. Allen, The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective (Cambridge, 2009).

Week 4:
Gregory Clark, A Farewell to Alms. A Brief Economic History of the World (Princeton 2007).

Week 5:
Barry Eichengreen, The European Economy since 1945. Coordinated Capitalism and beyond (Princeton, 2008).

Week 6:
Robert Reich, Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy and Everday Life (New York 2007).

Week 7:
Peter A. Hall and David Soskice, ‘An introduction to varieties of capitalism’, in: idem, eds., Varieties of Capitalism. The Institutional Foundations of Comparative Advantage. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001, 1-68.


via uSis.

Contact information

E-mail: Dr. L.J. Touwen.


If only native speakers of Dutch participate, the course can be taught in Dutch.