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Foundations of Economic History - ECO00024C

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  • Department: Economics and Related Studies
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Thilo Huning
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: C
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

Module summary

This module is an applied economics module that provides empirical and theoretical insight into human history from an economist’s point of view, and shows how the understanding of economics has increased by studying our past.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2023-24

Module aims

Foundations of Economic History is an introductory module in applied economics. In this module, we will look into the ‘big questions’ of economics: Why are some nations poor while others are rich? What are the determinants of inequality within nations? What can we learn from the past’s epidemics, wars, crises, and the eras of stable economic growth, for today’s economy? Why has Europe, and especially Britain, gained a head start and was the heartland of the Industrial Revolution? Why have some regions created stable, strong, and accountable institutions that are also democratic, while other regions have failed to do so? And finally: How do economists pursue all these research questions, i.e. what is their methodology?

To answer these questions, we review literature in economics and related fields, starting with the beginning of humanity and ending with recent historical events. This literature includes selected book chapters from leading scholars in the field, as well as some articles from leading economics journals.

We seek to understand to what degree geography, formal institutions or informal institutions (such as culture), and other factors have allowed Europeans to dominate the world until very recently. This includes a long run perspective of the foundations of economic growth, including resources, productivity differences, and innovation. Looking at all major world regions, we survey theoretical and empirical research that try to explain how Europe industrialized first.

The course will also feature recent examples of how history has allowed us to increase our understanding of how the economy works today. To do so, we will review different pieces of evidence from academic books to quantitative studies, and learn how to assess the quality of research.

Apart from the module content itself, this module is aimed at helping you to develop the following skills that are essential for the rest of your studies: To apply economic theory to real-world examples; to evaluate the quality of different sources; to gain a basic understanding of quantitative economic research; to establish and defend a point of view based on scientific evidence; to discuss a given research question in a well-structured and convincing way; to present ideas to others.

Module learning outcomes

After this module, you will have an overview of economic growth and development throughout world history, and have a general understanding how history has helped us to become better economists while economics has also helped us to better understand history. By being provided with an overview of world history from an economist’s perspective, you will have established some understanding of the way economists survey the facts around them to establish new theoretical or empirical insights. This will allow you to appreciate the value of advances in economics (for example econometrics or economic theory) by having been provided with real world examples.

Upon completion of the module, you will know how to discuss general questions in applied economics in a structured way, both written and in presentations; you will be able to assess the quality of literature; you will have a good understanding of world economic history from the beginning of time to recently.


Task Length % of module mark
Foundations of Economic History
N/A 33
Online Exam -less than 24hrs (Centrally scheduled)
Foundations of Economic History
2 hours 67

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Opportunities for formative assessment

  • Students receive formative feedback during practical lectures (i.e. supported by polling software), and during the seminars

  • A central component of the formative assessment is a 700 word group essay to be submitted in week 4 to prepare students to write individual essays. The core results of this group essay is presented in a group presentation in week 5 (also formative). Students will receive oral feedback for the group essay and their group presentation directly after the latter (during the seminar)


Task Length % of module mark
Online Exam -less than 24hrs (Centrally scheduled)
Foundations of Economic History
2 hours 67

Module feedback

Feedback on the formative group essay

  • Students receive oral feedback on the formative essay with the feedback on their presentation

Feedback on the midterm essay

  • Student will get written feedback on the midterm essay within two weeks of the due date

Feedback on the exam

  • Students will receive feedback on their exam within 25 days of its submission

Indicative reading

Allen, Robert C: “The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective”, Cambridge University Press, 2009

Clark, Gregory: “A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World”, Princeton University Press, 2007

Diamond, Jared: “Guns, Germs, and Steel: A Short History of Everybody for the Last 13,000 Years”, Norton Press, 1997

Koyama, Mark and Rubin, Jared: “How the World Became Rich: The Historical Origins of Economic Growth”, Polity Press, 2022

Scheidel, Walter: “Escape from Rome: The Failure of Empire and the Road to Prosperity”, Princeton University Press, 2019

Voigtlaender, Nico and Voth, Hans-Joachim: “The Three Horsemen of Riches: Plague, War, and Urbanization in Early Modern Europe”, Review of Economic Studies 80 (2), 2013

The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.