BA History and Sociology / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
From Greed to Grandezza: A History of Capitalism from the Renaissance to Modernity (1250s-1900s)

Course unit fact file
Unit code HIST32121
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? No


Historically, capitalism developed in a variety of ways and took various forms. This course traces some of its most characteristic examples, combining practical economic histories of capitalism with their underlying histories of capitalist ideology and ideas.



Restricted to History programmes, History joint honours programmes and Classics and Ancient History programmes (please check your programme structure for further details).


This course will

  • introduce students to a broad range of relevant themes and historiographical debates associated with the economic and social history of capitalist development in historical perspective.
  • engage students with critical concepts relating to the study of economic and social history
  • encourage students to adopt a critical perspective to their own understanding of capitalism and the rise of the modern economy.
  • facilitate independent study by developing key skills in terms of locating, analyzing and evaluating both primary and secondary source material related to important themes introduced in the course.


Knowledge and understanding

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

  • Possess an awareness of the ways in which historians have examined and understood the history of European capitalism 1250-1850.
  • Articulate key themes related to the emergence of capitalist institutions in Europe.
  • Explore the historical origin of modern capitalist societies. 
  • Possess familiarity with key historiography and texts on the dynamics of modern capitalism. 

Intellectual skills

  • Confront how ideas of social justice and inequality shaped past societies.
  • Articulate the relationship between people and institutions in their social and economic contexts.
  • Develop awareness of how historians use primary sources in historical research to examine these relationships.
  • Possess awareness of how economic and social history methods can be applied to specific historical periods and issues.


Practical skills

  • Locate, retrieve, assimilate and interpret relevant information and key concepts from primary and secondary sources.
  • Develop and present informed historical argumentation in written and oral form.
  • Extend and apply oral and group skills by participating in and leading seminars.

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Acquire a solid understanding of the boundaries of social, cultural and economic history, as well as the opportunity to develop a wider perspective by an integration of those fields in the fruitful study of capitalism;
  • Develop a critical understanding of the nature and limitations of primary sources available to historians, and to learn how to apply historical methods in appropriate contexts in relation to the study of capitalism;
  • Explore how the study of history, especially capitalism, has benefited from dialogue with other academic disciplines;
  • Undertake in-depth investigation of case-studies of capitalism in Europe and beyond.
  • Understand basic principles and concepts employed by historians, and intellectual developments that have informed recent ‘mainstream’, neoliberal and heterodox approaches to capitalism and modernity.


Employability skills

Oral communication
· The oral work, and the feedback on it, will enable students to improve their reading and speaking skills.
Written communication
· The written coursework will help students develop their abilities to undertake independent research using a wide variety of sources of information, and enable them to develop their analytical abilities and their writing skills.
· The intellectual and knowledge skills will prepare students for a range of careers requiring knowledge of historical changes to economic, social and political institutions, businesses and firms, markets and organisations, commodities and products, etc. Such careers could include law, business and management, advertising and communications, politics and administration, charities and voluntary organisations, private sector enterprises, self-employment and entrepreneurship, etc.

Assessment methods

Extended source analysis 50%
Exam 50%




Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative

Oral Feedback in seminars


Written feedback on coursework

Formative and Summative

Written Feedback on exams


Additional one-to-one feedback with CUD, lecturers or tutors during consultation hours



Recommended reading

Joyce O. Appleby, The relentless revolution: a history of capitalism (New York: W. W. Norton, 2010)

Sven Beckert, Empire of Cotton: A Global History (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2014)

Mark Bevir / Frank Trentmann, Markets in historical contexts: ideas and politics in the modern world (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004)

Francesco Boldizzoni, Means and ends: the idea of capital in the West, 1500-1970 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008)

Francesco Boldizzoni Foretelling the End of Capitalism: Intellectual Misadventures since Karl Marx (Princeton, NJ, 2020)

Fernand Braudel, Civilization and capitalism, 15th-18th century 3 vols. (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1982-1984)

Rondo Cameron & Larry Neal, A Concise Economic History of the World: From Paleolithic Times to the Present (2002)

Carlo M. Cipolla, Between two cultures: an introduction to economic history (New York: Norton, 1991)

Robert S. DuPlessis, Transitions to capitalism in early modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997)

Bernard Harcourt, The illusion of free markets: punishment and the myth of natural order (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011)

Martha C. Howell, Commerce before capitalism in Europe, 1300-1600 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010)

Edwin S. Hunt & James M. Murray, A history of business in medieval Europe 1200-1550 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999)

Jürgen Kocka, Capitalism. A short history (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016)

Eric Mielants, The origins of capitalism and the rise of the west, 2nd ed. (Temple University Press, 2008)

Sidney Mintz, Sweetness and power: The place of sugar in modern history (London & New York: Penguin, 1986)

Jerry Z. Muller, The mind and the market: capitalism in modern European thought (New York: Anchor, 2003)

Karl Polanyi, The great transformation (Boston, 1944) eBook:

Frank Trentmann, Empire of things: how we became a world of consumers, from the fifteenth century to the twenty-first (London: Allen Lane, 2016)


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Seminars 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Philipp Roessner Unit coordinator

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