BA Art History and History / Course details

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Capitalism in Historical Perspective: 1700-1913

Course unit fact file
Unit code HIST10182
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 1
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Available as a free choice unit? No


Historically, capitalism developed in a variety of ways and took various forms. The course surveys the history of industrial capitalism in modern Britain (1700-1913) in a comparative perspective between c1700 and c1913, surveying key debates including: 

1) child work and gender – did capitalism really make everyone better off? 

2) the role of the state in promoting or hindering capitalism

3) the rise of the working classes, Marx, Engels and the “social question”

4) the history of slavery and imperialism and their contribution to British economic development 

5) financial markets, investment and the role of the printing press in creating a “nation of shareholders” 

Using various approaches, the course uncovers the complex narrative of the historical origins and development of modern capitalism. Students will study how capitalism is the result of a number of parallel transformations: industrial revolution, changing economic thought, shifts in demographics, transformation of social life and relations, and rethinking of political and moral ideas. They will confront themes including contemporary criticisms of capitalism, gender and social inequalities, speculation, fraud, and financial crime, commercial networks and finance, protests, competition and cooperation, trust and reputation within markets, and many more. 


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 industrializing countries  

  • engage students with critical concepts relating to the study of economic history 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. 

  • Synthesize and organize information derived from independent research and digest such findings into an original argument 

Teaching and learning methods

The course will be taught by a combination of weekly lectures and assorted asynchronous activities (2 hours per week) and seminars (1 hour per week)

In seminars, students will work predominantly in smaller groups, debating, examining source material, discussing, analyzing and making presentations. Students will also get an opportunity to reflect upon their own practice, become aware of how they develop their understanding of concepts, and generate ideas to refine their study methods.

The course will be supported by Blackboard. This will be used to provide seminar readings, and where possible extracts from primary sources, and other relevant course materials. All coursework would be submitted and feedback returned via Blackboard. 

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 economic and social history of Britain and Europe over the period 1700 to 1913 

  • Articulate key themes related to the emergence of capitalist institutions in modern Britain and Europe. 

  • Explore the extent of historical changes associated with the ‘emergence’ of capitalistic and modern industrial societies. 

  • Possess familiarity with key historiographical texts related to histories of specific nations in the context of modern capitalism.  

Intellectual skills

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

  • 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

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

  • 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

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

  • Work independently through individual research.  

  • Writing well-structured pieces of assessed work. 

  • Developing written and oral fluency that are crucial for both academic work and future careers. 

  • Develop skills in engaging with unfamiliar modes of knowledge and communication, accepting responsibility for meeting deadlines and co-operating with others, developing confidence in their own abilities. 

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

Open book exam


Source Analysis


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

Broadberry, Stephen & O’Rourke, Kevin (eds.), The Cambridge Economic History of Modern Europe Vols 1 & 2 (Cambridge, 2010). 

Daunton, Martin, Progress and Poverty: An Economic and Social History of Britain, 1700 – 1850 (Oxford, 2010) 

Daunton, Martin, Wealth and Welfare: An Economic and Social History of Britain, 1851 – 1951 (Oxford, 2007) 

Floud, Roderick & Johnson, Paul (eds.), The Cambridge Economic History of Modern Britain – Vols.  1 & 2 (Cambridge, 2004). 

Millward, Robert, The State and Business in the Major Powers: An Economic History, 1815 – 1939 (Abingdon, 2013) 

Neal, Larry and Williamson, Jeffrey (eds.), The Cambridge History of Capitalism: Vols. 1 & 2 (Cambridge, 2014). 


Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Edmond Smith Unit coordinator
Aashish Velkar Unit coordinator
Philipp Roessner Unit coordinator

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