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Essential Readings in Economic History


Admission requirements

This course is part of the (Res)MA History Programme. 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:

  • 6) Thorough knowledge and comprehension of one of the specialisations or subspecialisations as well as of the historiography of the specialisation, focusing particularly on the following; in the subspecialisation 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.

  • 7) (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 has acquired:

  • 8) 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

  • 9) Knowledge and comprehension of the theoretical foundation of the discipline and of its position vis a vis other disciplines

  • 10) information and has taken part in the on-going historical debate on this subject


The timetable is available on the MA History website

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar (compulsory attendance)
    This means that students have to attend every session of the course. If a student is not able to attend, he is required to notify the teacher 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 teacher will notify the students at the beginning of the semester. If a student does not comply with the aforementioned requirements, he will be excluded from the seminar.

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours = 280 hours

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

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

  • Writing weekly assignment: 7 x 3 = 21 hours

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

  • Writing final book review: 10 hours

Assessment method


  • Weekly Essay:
    Measured learning objectives: 1, 2, 7, 8, 9

  • Participation in class discussion and Presentation:
    Measured learning objectives: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8, 10

  • Final essay/Book review:
    Measured learning objectives: 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10


  • Weekly short-essays: 60%

  • Participation/oral presentation: 10%

  • Book Review: 30%

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


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


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


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.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • publication course outline

  • communication of deadlines

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-Grenouillean & J. V. Roitman (eds.), A Deus ex Machina Revisited. Atlantic Colonial Trade and European Economic Development (Leiden 2006), 5-20

Week 2

  • Casson, M. and Casson, C. (2014) The history of entrepreneurship: Medieval origins of a modern phenomenon. Business History, 56 (8). pp. 1223-1242. ISSN 1743-7938 doi: 10.1080/00076791.2013.867330

  • Casson, M. C. (2010) Entrepreneurship: theory, institutions and history. Eli F. Heckscher Lecture, 2009. Scandinavian Economic History Review, 58 (2). pp. 139-170. ISSN 0358-5522 doi: 10.1080/03585522.2010.482288

  • Casson, M. and Della Giusta, M. (2007) Entrepreneurship and social capital: analysing the impact of social networks on entrepreneurial activity from a rational action perspective. International Small Business Journal, 25 (3). pp. 220-244. ISSN 1741-2870 doi: 10.1177/0266242607076524; (4) Casson, M. (2005) Entrepreneurship and the theory of the firm. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 58 (2). pp. 327-348. ISSN 0167-2681 doi: 10.1016/j.jebo.2004.05.007

Week 3

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

Week 4

  • Sheilagh Ogilvie, A Bitter Living:Women, and Social Capital in Early-Modern Germany, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003

Week 5

  • Sven Beckert, Empire of Cotton, A global History (New York: Alfred Knopf, 2015).

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

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


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


Prof. C. A. P. Antunes