Economic History 7401

Matías Vernengo


The purpose of this course is to introduce students to topics in international economic history, and serve as a complement of ECON7400 that emphasizes topics related to the US economy.  The course will cover from the transition from feudalism to capitalism to the differences between the current and the late 19th century globalization processes.  The course is not chronologically organized.  The topics covered emphasize unresolved controversial issues in international economic history, e.g. whether there was an Industrial Revolution, the critique of Eurocentric interpretations of History, and the revival of cultural and geographical explanations for relative backwarderness.


Evaluation consists of two in-class exams, and a term paper on a topic chosen in consultation with the instructor.  The weights are: first in-class exam 30%, second in-class exam 30%, and term paper 40%.  A study guide with possible exam questions will be distributed before each exam.  Office hours will be announced in class, and I will be available in my office for informal discussions.  If you need to schedule an appointment or discuss some special need e-mail me at  The book by Rondo Cameron and Larry Neal, A Concise Economic History of the World: From Paleolithic Times to the Present will be used as a general reference, but we will rely mostly on original articles.


1. The Transition to Capitalism

The ‘transition debate’ between Marxist historians was fundamentally about the nature of feudalism as a mode of production and the causes of its collapse, with one group emphasizing the agrarian and the other the mercantilist origins of capitalism.  The ‘Brenner debate’ is a spin-off of the former one that started with a critique of the dominant demographic interpretation of pre-industrial Europe.


Sweezy, P. (1950), “A Critique,” in R. Hilton, ed., The Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism, London: New Left Books, 1976.

Dobb, M. (1950), “A Reply,” in R. Hilton, ed., The Transition from Feudalism to Capitalism, London: New Left Books, 1976.

Brenner, R. (1976), “Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial Europe,” in T.H. Aston and C.H.E. Philpin, eds., The Brenner Debate: Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial Europe, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Postan, M. M. and J. Hatcher (1978), “Population and Class Relations in Feudal Society,” in T.H. Aston and C.H.E. Philpin, eds., The Brenner Debate: Agrarian Class Structure and Economic Development in Pre-Industrial Europe, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985.


2. The Industrial Revolution

Conventional wisdom portrays the Industrial Revolution as a major break with the past, one in which income per capita growth and technological progress increased markedly.  The so-called Crafts-Harley view challenges conventional wisdom and suggests that growth has been overestimated, and the Industrial Revolution was a relatively smooth transition.


Landes, D. (1969), Unbound Prometheus: Technological Change and Development in Western Europe from 1750 to the Present, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 41-123.

Crafts, N. and C. Harley (1992), “Output Growth and the British Industrial Revolution: A Restatement of the Crafts-Harley View,” Economic History Review, 45(4), pp. 703-30.

Cameron, R. (1994), “The Industrial Revolution: Fact or Fiction?” Contention, Fall, pp. 163-88.

Mokyr, J. (1994), “That which we call an Industrial Revolution: reply to Cameron,” Contention, Fall, pp. 188-205.

Temin, P. (1997), “Two Views of the Industrial Revolution,” Journal of Economic History, March, pp. 63-82.


3. The Factory System and Hierarchic Relations

Conventional wisdom suggests that the factory emerged because of new kinds of technology.  With the invention of large industrial machines, the argument goes, it became necessary to move out of the small cottages and workshops and into large warehouses.  Marglin argued that the real reason why the factory system emerged was because it gave bosses more control.


Marglin, S. (1974), “What Do Bosses Do?” Review of Radical Political Economics, 6, pp. 60-112.

Landes, D. (1986), “What Do Bosses Really Do?” Journal of Economic History, 46(3), pp. 585-623.

Brown, M. and P. Philips (1986), “Craft Labor and Mechanization in Nineteenth-Century American Canning,” Journal of Economic History, 46(3), pp. 743-56.


4. The West and the Rest

There has been a heated controversy on the timing of the so-called ‘Great Divergence.’  Some authors claim that, against conventional wisdom, living standards in Western Europe and China were similar as recently as 1800.  Their conclusion is that an excessive Eurocentric view of the world has distorted understanding of economic development in the rest of the world.


Frank, A. G. (1998), Re-Orient: Global Economy in the Asian Age, Berkeley: California University Press, pp. 321-38.

Pomeranz, K. (2000), The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy, Princeton: Princeton University Press, pp. 32-68.

Goldstone, J. (2002), “The rise of the West—or not? A revision to socio-economic history,” Sociological Theory, 18, pp. 175-92.

Broadberry, S. and G. Bishnupriya (2006), “The Early Modern Great Divergence: Wages, Prices and Economic Development in Europe and Asia, 1500-1800,” Economic History Review, 59(1), pp. 2–31.


5. The Origins of Relative Backwarderness

There has been a revival of cultural and geographical explanations for relative backwarderness.  In contradistinction, some authors emphasize the role of institutions in explaining diverging growth performance.


Diamond, J. (1997), Guns, Germs and Steel, New York: Norton, pp. 85-103.

Landes, D. (1998), The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, New York: Norton, pp. 29-59.

Sokoloff, K. and S. Engerman (2000), “Institutions, Factor Endowments, and Paths of Development in the New World,” Journal of Economic Perspectives, 14(3), pp. 217-32.

Acemoglu, D., S. Johnson, and J. Robinson (2001), “The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation,” American Economic Review, 91(5), pp. 1369–96.

Acemoglu, D., J. Robinson and S. Johnson (2002), “Reversal of Fortune: Geography and Institutions in the Making of the Modern World,” Quarterly Journal of Economics, 117: 1231-94.


6. Finance and Hegemonic Power

Gerschenkron famously pointed out the importance of the banking sector (and the State) for late comers.  New research emphasizes the importance of public debt in the development of sophisticated financial markets.


Gerschenkron, A. (1952), “Economic Backwarderness in Historical Perspective,” in Economic Backwarderness in Historical Perspective, New York: Praeger, pp. 5-30.

Kindleberger, C. (1993), A Financial History of Western Europe, New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 173-207.

Neal, L. (2000), “How It All Began: The Monetary and Financial Architecture of Europe from 1648 to 1815,” Financial History Review, (7)2, pp. 117-40.

Ferguson, N. (2001), The Cash Nexus: Money and Power in the Modern World, 1700-2000, New York: Basic Books, pp. 105-36.


6. The Gold Standard and Globalization

How did the classical Gold Standard worked?  Did it promote a symmetric and smooth adjustment of the balance of payments in the center and periphery?  Did the gold standard facilitate access by peripheral countries to foreign capital from the core countries?  These are some of the questions that are studied in this section.


Ford, A. G. (1962), The Gold Standard, 1880-1914: Britain and Argentina, Oxford: Clarendom Press, pp. 3-29.

Eichengreen, B. (1996), Globalizing Capital: A History of the International Monetary System, Princeton: Princeton University Press, pp. 7-44.

Bordo, M., and H. Rockoff (1996), “The Gold Standard as a ‘Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval’,” Journal of Economic History, 56(2), pp. 389–428.

Vernengo, M. (2003), “The Gold Standard and Center Periphery Interactions,” in L-P. Rochon and S. Rossi, eds., Modern Theories of Money, Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.


7. The German Hyperinflation

There are two interpretations of the German hyperinflation. Some authors emphasize the role of reparations, foreign exchange devaluations and distributive conflict, while others emphasize fiscal imbalances and monetization of public debt.


Holtfrerich, C-L. (1986), The German Hyperinflation, 1914-1923, Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, pp. 301-34.

Burkett, P. and R. Burdekin (1993), “Real Wages and Distributional Conflict in the German Hyperinflation,” Australian Economic Papers, 32(60), pp. 73-92.

Feldman, G. (1996), The Great Disorder: Politics, Economics, and Society in the German Inflation, 1914-1924, New York: Oxford, pp. 576-627.


8. The Gold Standard and the Depression

Conventional explanations of the Depression emphasized domestic causes – Friedman’s great contraction versus Temin’s consumption decline.  More recently the international causes of the depression, associated with the functioning of the Gold Standard, have received more attention.


Eichengreen, B. and J. Sachs (1985), “Exchange Rates and Economic Recovery in the 1930s,” Journal of Economic History, 45(4), pp. 925-46.

Temin, P. (1989), Lessons from the Depression, Cambridge: MIT Press, pp. 1-40.

Eichengreen, B. (1992), “The Origins and Nature of the Great Slump Revisited,” Economic History Review, 45(2), pp. 213-39.


9. The Rise and Fall of the Golden Age

The quarter century following post-World War II reconstruction was a period of unprecedented prosperity and expansion for the world economy.  The particular conditions for the Golden Age and its collapse are analyzed.


Glyn, A., A. Hughes, A. Lipietz, and A. Singh (1990), “The Rise and Fall of the Golden Age,” in S. Marglin and J. Schor eds., The Golden Age of Capitalism, Oxford: Clarendon Press, pp. 39-125.

DeLong, B. and B. Eichengreen (1993), “The Marshall Plan: History’s Most Successful Structural Adjustment Program,” in R. Dornbusch, W. Nolling and R. Layard, eds., Post-War Reconstruction and Lessons for the East Today, Cambridge: MIT Press.

Helleiner, E. (1994), States and the Reemergence of Global Finance, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, pp. 1-22.


10. Is Globalization Today Different?

Some authors suggest that there is a parallel between current globalization trends and the half century of international economic integration before the First World War. Others remain skeptical emphasizing that the first period was not one of trade liberalization, nor one of reduced expectations about the role of the State.


Bairoch, P. and R. Kozul-Wright (1996), “Globalization Myths: Some Historical Reflections of Integration, Industrialization and Growth, in the World Economy,” UNCTAD Working Paper No 113.

Glyn, A. and R. Sutcliffe (1999), “Still Underwhelmed: Indicators of Globalization and their Misinterpretation,” Review of Radical Political Economics, 31(1), pp. 111-32.

Bordo, M., B. Eichengreen and D. Irwin (1999), “Is Globalization Today Really Different from Globalization a Hundred Years Ago?” NBER Working Paper No 7195.