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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: 2022-23
    • See module specification for other years: 2021-22

Module summary

What is capitalism? 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. 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.

At its core, this module is about power, the power wielded by those who command capital, as well as the power exercised by economists. By examining both the history of capitalism and of economics as a discipline, we will arrive at a more fully developed understanding of the structures and institutions that rule the world.

This module is neither a strict intellectual history of economic thought nor an economic history of modern Europe. The aim of this module is instead to focus on the intersection between the history of ideas and the more concrete social, economic, and political histories in which these intellectual developments were grounded. We will begin with the Industrial Revolution, the works of Adam Smith, and the emergence of economics as a field of study. We will end with the Great Depression of the 1930s. The crisis of capitalism that was generated by this global economic collapse produced some of the most interesting economic thought of the century.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Autumn Term 2022-23

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 capitalism has been variously defined since the eighteenth century;

  • A familiarity with the ideas of the major figures in modern economic thought, e.g. Smith, Marx, Mill, Keynes, Hayek;

  • The ability to ground the intellectual history of capitalism and economic thinking in their social, political, and cultural contexts.

Module content

Teaching Programme:

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

Seminar topics are subject to variation, but are likely to include the following:

  1. Adam Smith and the rise of commercial society

  2. Money and myth

  3. The Great Divergence

  4. Karl Marx and class struggle

  5. The Environmental costs of economic growth

  6. Mill and the Stationary State

  7. Quantitative thinking

  8. The Great Depression


Task Length % of module mark
4,000 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students will complete a 2,000-word formative essay, due in week 6 of Autumn term. They will then submit a 4,000-word assessed essay for summative assessment in week 2 of Spring term.

For further details about assessed work, students should refer to the Taught Masters Degrees Statement of Assessment.


Task Length % of module mark
4,000 word essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment, students will receive oral feedback at a one-to-one meeting with their tutor and written feedback consisting of comments and a mark within 10 working days of submission. Tutors are also available in their student hours to discuss formative assessment. 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. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment.

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.

Nicholas Wapshott. Keynes Hayek: The Clash that Defined Modern Economics. Norton, 2011.

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.