BA Politics and Modern History / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
'First Modern Economy' and 'First Industrial Nation': The Netherlands, England, c.1600-1850

Unit code HIST31382
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by History
Available as a free choice unit? No


Why are some countries rich whilst others stay poor? Why does capitalism work better for some countries than others? Is it because some people simply have the better strategies to achieve wealth and prosperity? Is it because some are cleverer? How do geography, resources, technology, culture, or the ‘rules of the game’ come into play? These have pretty much been the master questions historians have asked when studying the history of capitalism and looking at world poverty and global economic inequality since the past four centuries or so. In this course, we will study some of the main explanations and narratives produced by historians regarding the origins of wealth, prosperity and modern economic growth, and we will tease out some of their salient features through a comparative framework, focusing on the “first modern economy” (The Netherlands) and the “first industrial nation” (Britain).


HIST31381 is only available to students on History-owned programmes; Euro Studies programmes; CLAH-owned programmes; and History joint honours programmes owned by other subject areas (please check your programme structure for further details).

This module is only available to students on History-owned programmes; Euro Studies programmes; History joint honours programmes owned by other subject areas; and CLAH-owned programmes. Available to students on an Erasmus programmes subject to VSO approval.


In this course we study the history of modern capitalism focusing on long-term growth and development of the European economy since the dawn of the early modern age. By discussing select historical examples, case studies, theories and models explaining or addressing prosperity, wealth and economic development in the present and the past, students will familiarise themselves with basic concepts in history, economic history and the history of development.

Learning outcomes

By the end of this course students will be able to:


Indicative Course Structure:

Week 1: Introduction: Concepts and Pitfalls of Modernity, the History of Capitalism and Don’t Be Afraid of Economic History          

Week 2: Modernity in a Pre-modern World – a Paradox?         

Week 3: The Netherlands (I)– The ‘First Modern Economy’?   

Week 4: The Netherlands (II) – Playing the Global Markets     

Week 5: Field Trip

Week 6: An Industrious Revolution? Markets, Wants, Desires and the Wealth of Goods  

Week 7: Emulation. Trade and Cultural Transfer as Strategies of Development

Week 8: Slow, but Steady. The English Industrial Revolution as a Concept and Problem in History           

Week 9: Dare to Know (Sapere Aude)! Culture, Enlightenment, and the Rise of a Knowledge Economy        

Week 10:  Bringing the State Back In. The Role of the State in the Process of Development in Historical Perspective

Week 11: The Rise of Modern Capitalism, 1350-1850: The European Dimension and Conclusion  

Week 12: Exam Clinic, Wrap-up, extended contact hrs         

Teaching and learning methods

Lecture, seminar, group discussion, flipped classroom, (unassessed) presentations, posters, group work, independent study, field trip.

Knowledge and understanding

Demonstrate a profound knowledge and understanding of

  • Historically observable strategies of economic development and growth, with particular reference to the ‘Dutch’ and ‘English’ models c. 1600-1850.
  • How pre-industrial societies negotiated the opportunities and constraints posed by their material environment
  • Capitalism as an economic-historical mode of production that is socially and culturally embedded
  • How to engage critically with historical concepts, methods and theories of capitalism and economic modernisation and their application to the writing of social and economic history in general.


Intellectual skills

  • Demonstrate a critical awareness of themes and methodologies connected with the study of early modern and contemporary capitalism from a social, economic and cultural perspective.
  • Undertake critical and sophisticated reviews of scholarly literature on capitalism and develop an independent perspective
  • Formulate an individual research question based on scholarly literature and select primary sources
  • Develop analytical skills that can be applied to primary or secondary material
  • Synthesize and interpret in an incisive manner a wealth of information gathered and analysed through independent research

Practical skills

Students should acquire the following skills:

  1. writing essays
  2. formulating, communicating and defending a hypothesis
  3. interpreting primary sources
  4. deploying basic descriptive statistics in their argumentation

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • develop and apply oral and group skills by participating in seminars and taking an active role in group discussions & assignments [verbal communication skills and teamwork skills].
  • engage in the critical evaluation of a range of secondary and primary source materials [analytical and critical reasoning skills].
  • write reflective and well-structured pieces of work thereby demonstrating evidence of an ability to frame and develop an argument in a sustained manner appropriate to L3 [written communication skills].
  • Collaborate in projects as part of peer-group assignments

Employability skills

Group/team working
Work independently, as well as part of a team, both within seminars and through individual research
Written communication
Write a case study (briefing, poster) conforming to standards upheld in governmental and non-governmental bodies

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 50%
Written assignment (inc essay) 50%

Feedback methods

Feedback on first essay: Summative. Students will receive essay feedback electronically and through verbal discussion (upon appointment), within ten working days (2 weeks). Submission of 2nd essay at least one month after submission of first essay so as to allow for improvement based on feedback.

Feedback on second essay: see above.

Feedback on exam: Summative. Students will receive exam feedback electronically.

Recommended reading

Jan De Vries / Ad Van der Woude, The First Modern Economy. Success, Failure, and Perseverance of the Dutch Economy, 1500–1815, Cambridge 1997

Lisa Jardine, Going Dutch. How England plundered Holland’s Glory, London 2009

Robert C. Allen, The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective, Cambridge et al. 2009

Jan Luiten Van Zanden, The Long Road to the Industrial Revolution. The European Economy in a Global Perspective, 1000–1800, Leiden et al. 2009

Jan de Vries, The Industrious Revolution: Consumer Behavior and the Household Economy, 1650 to the Present, Cambridge (CUP) 2008

Joel Mokyr, The Enlightened Economy. An Economic History of Britain 1700–1850, New Haven (YUP) 2009

R. Floud / P. Johnson (eds.), The Cambridge Economic History of Modern Britain, Bd. I: Industrialisation, 1700–1860, Cambridge (CUP) 2004

E. A. Wrigley, Energy and the English Industrial Revolution, Cambridge, CUP 2010

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Assessment written exam 2
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 165

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Philipp Roessner Unit coordinator

Additional notes

Assessment Methods

Essay 1, summative, 1500 words, 20%

Essay 2, summative, 2500 words, 30%

Exam, summative, 2 hours, 2 questions, 50%


Return to course details