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Falling for Growth: Capitalism in the Modern World - HIS00122M

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Venus Bivar
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2021-22

Module summary

Capitalism is a slippery term. For some it is short-hand for all that is wrong with the world. For others it is a synonym for freedom. In this module we study the history of capitalism, exploring different theories about when, where, and how it first emerged, and then developed in the latter half of the twentieth century into the dominant mode of economic and social organisation. We will read both classics in the field (Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Rosa Luxembourg) and contemporary works (Destin Jenkins, Manu Goswami, Timothy Mitchell). As we proceed through the reading list students will begin to formulate their own definition of capitalism and will learn how to defend their position using textual evidence.

Alongside our inquiry into the nature of capitalism, we will also explore the historically simultaneous emergence of the economy. Most of us take for granted that the economy is a real object, rather than an invention of our imaginations. In this module, we will examine how the economy was first theorised in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and how, over time, economics became one of the most powerful forces of the modern world.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Autumn Term 2021-22

Module aims

The module aims to:

  • Develop skills of source analysis and interpretation;
  • Assess a range of source material and relevant secondary works; and
  • Develop students’ powers of evidence-based historical argument, both orally and in writing.

Module learning outcomes

After completing this module students should have:

  • an understanding of how the recent academic interest in economic growth relates to the existing literature on the history of capitalism;
  • the ability to distinguish between twentieth-century forms of economic growth and its precusors of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries ;
  • familiarity with a variety of historical examples of how growth was pursued by state and economic interests in different national and international contexts, as well as the ability to draw conclusions about the nature of growth by comparing these different examples.

Module content

Teaching Programme:

Students will attend eight weekly two-hour seminars in weeks 2-9.

The provisional outline for the module is as follows:

1. The birth of capitalism
2. Adam Smith and the rise of commercial society
3. Money and myth
4. The Great Divergence
5. Karl Marx and class struggle
6. Capitalism and Empire
7. Quantitative thinking
8. Self-Devouring Growth


Task Length % of module mark
Long Essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students will complete a 2,000-word essay for formative assessment, due in week 6 or 7 of the autumn term, for which they will receive an individual tutorial. They will then submit a 4,000-word assessed essay for summative assessment in week 2 of the spring term.

For further details about assessed work, students should refer to the Statement of Assessment for Taught Postgraduate Programmes.


Task Length % of module mark
Long Essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will receive written feedback consisting of comments and a mark within 10 working days of submission. They will also receive verbal feedback at an individual tutorial. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their formative work during their tutor’s student hours. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 20 working days of the submission deadline. Supervisors are available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment for Taught Postgraduate Programmes.

Indicative reading

For term time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

Adam Smith. An Inquiry into the Wealth of Nations. 1776.

Julie Livingston. Self-Devouring Growth: A Planetary Parable as Told from Southern Africa. Duke University Press, 2019.

Destin Jenkins and Justin Leroy, eds. Histories of Racial Capitalism. Columbia University Press, 2021.

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.