MSc/ MPhil in Economic and Social History

Course Structure

The MSt programme comprises elements which take place throughout the one-year programme. The MPhil programme follows the same elements over a two-year period.

Core qualifying papers:

The course is designed (in conjunction with the quantitative methods courses) to prepare graduates for research in economic and social history. It provides an opportunity to view the subject as a whole and to consider its origins, its methodological foundations, its relations with adjacent disciplines and its current trends, achievements, and problems. It presents some of the central methodological issues of the social sciences, and some of their recent advances. It then indicates how these various methodological approaches can be applied to the study of economic and social history.

Standard Course

Quantitative Methods 1 is designed to help students understand basic quantitative methods with a consideration of historical sources and contexts. It is also meant to develop basic fluency with Stata. While the course does not require any previous knowledge relating to statistics or mathematics, it moves quickly starting with descriptive statistics and ending with basic multiple linear regression. Two homework assignments are due per week, and two separate essays will also be completed over the course. 

Advanced Course

The required textbook is Wooldridge, Introductory Econometrics: A Modern Approach. All editions are basically interchangeable. The recommended textbook is Angrist and Pischke, Mostly Harmless Econometrics. There are many inexpensive ways to access these books. An alternative to the recommended textbook, if you are afraid of math, is Angrist and Pischke, Mastering ’Metrics. If you would like a remedial introduction that brings you up to speed before the class begins, I recommend Schaum’s Outline of Statistics and Econometrics.

The weekly problem sets and take-home final exam will consist of a few questions from Wooldridge (or similar problems) and some replication exercises.

Economics can appear inaccessible to anyone not familiar with its language and method. Yet it remains a versatile and useful approach to the study of social behaviour. The aim of this course is to introduce student to the principles and basic concepts of economics, both in microeconomics and macroeconomics, and to demystify some of the jargon often used in the discipline. Over nine sessions, we will explore various elements in the economist’s ‘toolbox’, placing special emphasis on how these elements are applied to describe and understand the real world.

This course does not assume or require that any prior knowledge of economics or maths. It has also been designed to complement the Economic and Social History MSc/MPhil core courses. It is therefore particularly suited for graduate students who have not previously studied economics and who are interested in gaining a working knowledge of the main concepts in the field. Students with some knowledge of economics, however, might also find it useful for reviewing concepts or clarifying ideas.

Two advanced options

Please note: for the MPhil programme four advanced options will be chosen to take place over the two-years.

These are usually taught in small classes (assessed by examination or by extended essays of up to 5,000 words). Please note that not every option will be available each year, and that they are subject to change:

This paper introduces students to the field of anthropometric history, an area of research at the intersection of biology, auxology, anthropology, and economics to understand the nutritional standards of living of past peoples. The paper will begin by introducing students to the history of the study of human growth and the necessary biology to understand growth nutritional standards. We will then discuss modern growth standards of height and weight, and compare these with historical data, discussing the ways in which growth has changed over time. The final sessions of the course will delve into more recent literature that uses human height as a tool to understand past living standards when other sources, such as wages or GDP, are insufficient.

Historical subjects covered will include children and the detection and use of age of menarche as an indicator of health, the differences between using population versus individual data in growth studies, socioeconomic inequality, gender inequality, colonisation, and birth weights and epigenetics. The course will also examine the key historiographical issues, and very recent debates, as to the relevance and biases of anthropometric sources in history.

Eight sessions will be taught in total. Students will write a short essay for each session, or on occasion be asked to do another exercise more relevant to that week’s topic, such as creating graphs of growth velocities.

Comparing modern financial systems with much earlier ones provides a powerful means of developing a better understanding of both. Financial history has recently benefited from radical improvements in the availability of financial data from the twelfth century, and this has created new opportunities for applying empirical models over longer time periods. This course takes advantage of these developments and offers a history of British financial developments from the twelfth century. It should be of interest to both social historians and students with a background in analytical economics and econometrics.

The topics covered will include:

  • Evolution of money and credit counterparts;
  • Role of the English Mint as an off-balance sheet intermediary. The Mint price and its effectiveness as a cap and collar for bullion prices;
  • Risk management issues facing the Bank of England in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Basis risk and the interdependency of the Bank and the Mint;
  • The development of the London money market in the nineteenth century and the evolving role of the Bank of England;
  • Clearing banks and building societies;
  • Bank and building society deregulation since 1971;
  • Shadow banking and the repo market;
  • Attempts to control of money and credit aggregates;
  • Monetary policy and the exchange rate;
  • Monetary policy without money: inflation targets and interest rate policy.

There will an opportunity to compare academic thinking against the views and experience of market practitioners.

What is crime? How should society punish deviants and offenders? What is the nature of criminal justice and its supporting institutions? These are enduring questions, faced by all societies across time.  This course traces the British experience over the 18th and 19th centuries, when the key institutions and practices of modern law, enforcement and punishment were forged.  It was a period of revolution in penal thought. The course examines the definition of crime and deviance and its enactment in law, the development of crime control institutions and practices, and the role of discretion in the application of British justice. Particular attention is paid to punishment: the functioning of capital punishment, the search for alternatives, the battle over what mode of secondary punishment to adopt – transportation or incarceration – and the rise of the modern prison. The course also considers issues around who was caught within the net of criminal justice, including the creation of juvenile delinquency, women as criminals and as victims, and the rise of professional criminals and gangs.    The course ranges from microhistories to macro topics as it traces the rise and fall of the Bloody Code and the emergence of the modern system that we know today.

In 1945, the new Labour government set about creating what it hoped would be a revolution in social conditions in the English cities; later Conservative governments continued down the same track, at least until 1979. City governments controlled education, urban regeneration, and housing; the central state provided health, and social security. This paper examines the progress, and consequences, of that attempt at large-scale, planned, social change.

The Welfare State in 1945 was rooted in an industrially-based, working-class world, dominated by poverty and poor physical conditions. Over the next forty years, the values of this world were challenged by affluence, by social mobility, by de-industrialisation, by the effects of immigration and of ethnic rivalries, and by the pursuit of individual (rather than collective) solutions to social problems, while (reflexively) welfare-state institutions themselves affected the political impact of social change (for example, by amplifying ethnic rivalries around access to state-provided housing).

This paper examines the consequences of these changes in social structure and values, both for the Welfare State itself, and for the Labour Party. No simple social determinism explains the political outcomes; rather, policy and social change interacted to produce outcomes which were unexpected and unpredictable. Studying these changes provides unique insights into the social and the political history of England in the forty years after the end of the War

Economic history is central to the history of the interwar period. The main issues and the main problems were economic ones. The failure of European states to achieve prosperity and stability had a devastating effect on European politics and society, bringing about the collapse of the world trading system and the extinction of democracy in many countries. In this course we will seek to understand the nature of these problems and to analyse the policy mistakes which contributed to this lamentable record.

The period of colonial rule in most parts of sub-Saharan Africa was only brief, but is thought to have profoundly and irreversibly transformed the continent. One important aspect of that transformation concerned the changes in the organisation of production and commercial exchange, which is the subject of this course.

The main aim of this course is to encourage students to think creatively about the intricate relationship between changes occurring in the economic sphere - that is changes in the organisation of labour, production, and commercial exchange - and those taking place in the social sphere - that is in the realm of society, culture and politics. The starting points for the analysis are particular instances of change in the organisation of labour under colonial rule. It will be asked how these changes came about, whether these were imposed by the colonial state from above or initiated by the colonial subjects themselves from below, and what these changes had meant for the societies concerned, their social structures and political institutions, their belief systems and social values, in particular local figurations of class and gender relations. The course is meant to be an open inquiry into the making of contemporary Africa.

This paper examines issues and debates in Australian economic history focusing not only on the exploitation of natural resources – the wool, wheat and minerals referred to in the title – but also the domestic economy, cities, demographic structure, economic policies and institutions, industrialisation and the services sector. We will consider the major interpretations of Australian economic development since British invasion and the recent impact of modern economic growth theories. We ask if Australia’s economic history can usefully be compared to other countries’ experience and what conclusions can be drawn from Australia as an example of a successful developed economy

Working in conjunction with the TORCH research project, the Thames Valley Country House Partnership (TVCHP), students will make general investigations into the economics of landed estates, their aesthetics and development, and their value as cultural heritage; they will combine this with specific project work for a number of nearby country houses, drawing on archival research into specific, prearranged tasks. Students will be encouraged to place the country house within its wider economic and social contexts, moving beyond traditional methodologies that have privileged art and collections, to consider how the changing roles played by the country house were often responses to metropolitan impulses and altered economic conditions.

Waddesdon Manor, Blenheim Palace, Compton Verney, Highclere Castle, Basildon Park, Kelmscott Manor, Nuffield Place and a number of other local properties are eager to host student projects to be conducted under tutorial supervision of university members of the TVCHP – Oliver Cox (TVCHP founder/TORCH), William Whyte (Faculty of History) and Pegram Harrison (Saïd Business School). These projects will be co-designed to ensure that they answer a specific research need for the partner institution: addressing either a gap in curatorial knowledge or as research for new displays, exhibitions, or interpretative strategies. By embedding the course within the conservation and preservation activities of organisations including the National Trust, Historic Houses Association, and Society of Antiquaries, students will gain heightened understanding of the interactions between rigorous academic research and interpretative strategies used by heritage practitioners. 

This course is intended to explore the causes, and consequences for London, of its rise to dominance. It will begin with some consideration of European urban development more generally in the period, and the growth of other capital cities and ports, and then concentrate on London: its demographic and spatial growth; their roots in the city’s role as commercial entrepôt and as social and political capital; their consequences for social structure, balance of occupations, social problems, and mechanisms of government and social regulation. Particular attention will be paid throughout to the growing social and economic contrasts between City, West End, and eastern suburbs.

The aims of the course are to acquaint students with some of the key problems in the economic and social history of London in this period, to introduce them to some of the key sources for the study of the capital in this period, and to look at the city’s experience in a broader comparative perspective. All students will study the reasons for the city’s growth, placing it in the context of urban growth in England and the continent, and the demography of the city. Other topics for study will be chosen from the following menu: local government, social policy, crime, popular politics, the experience of women, the built environment, social topography, the role of the guilds, the experience of immigrants, foreign perceptions. At least one of the assignments must draw heavily on primary source materials. 

The paper introduces students to working-class autobiography of the 18th and 19th centuries and explores the ways in which it can be used by economic historians. Students will consider the relative neglect of working-class memoir and the reasons why historians have been suspicious of such accounts especially when so few sources exist to provide insight into many aspects of everyday life. The strengths and weaknesses of the source will be discussed. The transition from using proletarian memoir as a literary source to searching it for the kinds of quantitative and qualitative evidence needed by social science historians will be discussed and defended. The course convener's recent book, Childhood and Child Labour in the British Industrial Revolution will be read as an example of a social science approach to the source and will be contrasted with David Vincent's Bread, Knowledge and Freedom, which represents a classic interpretation. The ways in which working people's accounts of their own lives can be used to unlock many outstanding questions in social and economic history will be pursued. Students will be required to study several working-class autobiographies and to develop their own ideas about how these might be used to cast light on the past as it was experienced by ordinary people.

The purpose of this course is to provide a comprehensive picture of the various schools of economic analysis by climbing the tree of economic thought from its very root. This tree started to grow out of the ground of philosophy almost 2,500 years ago in classical Greek Antiquity. The last 500 years though economic theory and practice has received great attention becoming an independent field of inquiry initially as an Art and now as a Science distinct of its first broader domain of moral philosophy. It has grown into such a mature entity with the utilization of the axiomatic method. It has developed many independent branches today (such as Finance & Econometrics) so that grasping a global picture of this structure is an important, but perhaps daunting task for students of economics. In this course we will learn how each major branch grew out of an old trunk, and we shall examine how the interaction of ideas within economics and between economics and other fields of science, helped to shape economic science. Finally, we will see how, over the past two hundred years, the discipline of economics has changed our view of societal evolution given that society itself has been changing as a result of advances in science and technology. After this course, one should have a grasp of various important currents of economic thought, their methodological stances and their leading contributors.

Please contact the graduate office for more information:

This course analyses how late 19th and early 20th century globalization shaped economic development in Southeast Asia and its six main countries of Burma, Thailand, Malaya (including Singapore), Indonesia, Indochina and the Philippines. Topics considered include the plural society, the impact of colonialism, nationalism, resistance and rebellion, trade, financial development, foreign investment, industrialization and urbanization. The latter part of the course focuses on the World War II Japanese occupation of Southeast Asia and its economic and social impact on the region. Throughout, the course emphasizes the comparative nature of history and students are asked to concentrate on two of the main Southeast Asian countries.

The course is offered during the Hilary term. It is structured as eight one-hour lectures and eight one-hour tutorials. Students are asked to write essays and make class presentations.

The course is designed to provide an introduction to the main macroeconomic trends and issues in the British economy since 1870 for students who have not studied the subject before. It also provides a basis for going more deeply into selected topics for those who have taken papers on recent British economic history in their undergraduate degree. The course is therefore flexible and provides for the needs of students from a wide variety of backgrounds. The topics covered include longer-term issues, such factors determining economic growth in the twentieth century, in addition to more period specific topics, such as the return to the gold standard in the 1920s. The main issues, which are covered include: the causes of the decline in the rate of growth of the British economy before1914, the impact of capital exports and the working of the international gold standard; inter-war unemployment, the return to gold and the recovery of the 1930s; explanations of post-war growth with international comparisons, inflation and demand management, the end of the golden age in the 1970s.

This course will examine growth and cycles in the British economy and will include a discussion of debates over economic policy. The topics to be covered will include capital accumulation, the growth of the labour force and technical progress during each of the three main periods: pre-1914, the inter-war years, and post Second World War. Trends in the price level and money supply will be discussed and exchange rate regimes, including the gold standard, flexible exchange rates and the Bretton Woods system of fixed exchange rates. The behaviour of the labour market and real wages will be covered, together with the operation of fiscal policy and the theoretical controversies associated with them

Over this period a great navy was the most expensive, elaborate, and technically advanced expression of national power. Anglo-French naval rivalry helped to generate the largest industrial complexes in the Western world, and spurred major developments in ship design. These immensely costly activities had massive implications for public finance, colonial and trading policy, and administrative practices. This course will concentrate on the economic and technological aspects of the subject, at both theoretical and practical levels, including contemporary perceptions of maritime strategy. Attention will also be given to timber supply, gunfounding, problems of manpower and recruitment, promotion structures, food, and health. While a comparative approach is a vital part of the course, a degree of concentration on one country will be allowed.

As emphasized in the rubric, this course seeks to encourage a strongly comparative approach, in a field where this can be achieved in a very precise and telling fashion; in this respect it is a study in method. There are many striking similarities between policies and practices in the two countries, which is hardly surprising when so many of the problems were common to all major naval powers. Yet the differing political, economic and social structures of Britain and France also led to many differences in the way they ran their navies and tried to use them. There were in addition important contrasts in the relationships between maritime and colonial policy and national wealth which operated in the two countries. Since most naval history has been written in rather narrowly military terms, many of these connections have not been brought out until recently, and have still to be absorbed into the general understanding of national history, even in Britain. From an apparently oblique approach the course introduces students to several of the most dynamic (and precarious) sectors of the respective economies, across a period which was crucial for their development. It also provides something of a case study in how a valuable secondary literature can be exploited to discuss topics going beyond those envisaged by the authors concerned. 

Peasants, although probably the largest social group in most West European countries before 1900, more often appear as the objects of historical forces than as actors in the processes of economic, social and political change. They were defined by their unequal relationship to the landlord, the priest, and the state. Under the seigneurial regime they supported the landed elite, but no sooner had this been undone than they were being doomed to extinction by both socialists and free-marketeers, who believed they would be swept away by unstoppable economic and political modernisation (mechanisation, concentration, urbanisation, class and state formation…). More recently, social scientists have even doubted whether peasants, by some definitions, ever existed. Yet by other measures, European peasantries have been surprisingly resilient. This course follows peasant communities from seigneurialism through the revolutionary period, the impact of industrialisation and the development of a national and global agricultural markets in the late nineteenth century, to the protectionist reaction of the early twentieth century, to see how they have managed these changes. We will make use of the sources left to us by peasants (not nearly as rare as is alleged, if we extend our corpus beyond memoirs and letters to include oral literature and material culture) to investigate the ways that peasants were complicit in, perhaps even initiators of, historical change.

To achieve this we will be drawing on anthropological and sociological research on contemporary peasant societies, both in Europe and beyond. Anthropological expertise in the day-to-day operation of small scale, face-to-face communities will be particularly important in achieving a “peasant-eyed view” of historical change, though we will also be calling on historians’ knowledge of the institutions of mass society such as bureaucracies, trade unions, political parties, the media… Each session will concentrate on one of the dominant relationships in the peasant’s life – to the land, to the household, to the community, to the lord, to the market, to the State, to the Church, and to the social scientist. In addition to observing peasants, we will be observing the observers of peasants, and thus trying to understand the peasants’ place in the intellectual sphere. 

This course aims to both encourage critical philosophical reflection on economics and its fundamental concepts and to explore ways of drawing together economic and philosophical tools in the explanation and evaluation of society.

We will study topics in three main areas of the philosophy of economics: 

Methodology and Epistemology of Economic

Topics include the nature of explanation in economics, Mill's deductive a priori method, the logical and epistemological status of the fundamental postulates of contemporary economics, the nature of economic models, causation and econometric- modeling, reductionism and methodological individualism and the possibility of value-free economic theory.

The Analysis of Fundamental Economic Concepts

We will concentrate on the full and bounded rationality postulates of economics, looking at the debates over Homo Economicus, the development of a preference-based utility theory, and the `paradoxes' of full rationality in both Decision Theory and Game Theory. We shall explore also the possibility and promise that Experimental Economics offer.

Political Economy & Theory of Justice

We will start with a short, critical evaluation of traditional views of social justice and then concentrate on some current theories of justice. In studying these theories, our focus will be on the role of rationality in justice, the tension between the individual and society and the nature of equality.

This course concentrates on the major changes in French society over the 'long' seventeenth century, which saw the development of distinctive ancien régime structures in many areas. Particular emphasis will be placed on the relationship between state, church, and various elite groups, through which a set of overlapping hierarchies was strengthened. Attention will also be given to: popular culture and religiosity; the Catholic reform movement which sought to modify them; local solidarities and conflicts, including revolts; economic and demographic factors; the impact of royal policy on the localities; the development of a distinct elite culture.

Students are invited to study a crucial period in the emergence of the French 'absolutist' state, which is of the greatest interest and significance in terms of wider European trends. The focus will however be primarily on the underpinnings of the power structure, not on traditional political or administrative history. If increased royal power implied many severe clashes with local or particular interests, it was also based on a network of alliances and compromises with such groups, which set up many powerful interactions. The role of religion as an integral part of these structures will receive particular attention, since the régime cannot be properly understood without this crucial dimension. The complex history of royal fiscality is another key area, for changes here ultimately affected the lives of every person in France. The ultimate objective is to achieve a more 'structural' understanding of French society across the period, with its peculiar mix of static and dynamic elements.

This course examines the agricultural sector in the British economy since c.1800, with special emphasis on farming developments and on farmers. Much of the interest stems from the highly exceptional nature of the English farming system, which by 1800 had evolved into a tripartite structure - landowner, tenant farmer, and landless labourer. The average farm was large by international standards, and invested heavily in the technology produced by the Industrial Revolution. This system is contrasted with continental European systems, which retained large and relatively unmechanised peasant sectors until after 1945. Debates and topics to be examined include: the reasons for the disappearance of the English peasantry; the degree of success of Victorian farming; the reasons (mostly perennial) for and against having a policy of agricultural protection; the success of agriculture in feeding the nation in the Napoleonic and the two World Wars; whether the British entrepreneurial spirit was sapped by the attractions of investing in landownership; why farming has become such a capital-intensive and largescale business, especially since the Second World War; why contemporary farmers continue in business in the face of nugatory economic returns and growing environmental pressures.

In the globalizing international economy of the late nineteenth century, the United States developed into the world's leading manufacturing power by the First World War. This development was somewhat paradoxical since a notable effect of the transportation improvements that underlay globalization was effectively to increase America's relative resource abundance, which simple trade theory would predict would increase specialization on raw material exports. At the same time, however, transportation improvements created a continental economy. The resource abundance and the continental scope of America, combined with a protective tariff on manufactured imports, in turn shaped American technological development.

By the twentieth century it was apparent that the special conditions of America had led American firms to develop new and exceptionally productive technologies. In this process, Americans developed mass production factories and the managerial firm which dominate advanced manufacturing through the twentieth century.

Globalization also dominated monetary economics, the principal feature of macroeconomics until the end of our period. Before the First World War, money essentially meant the gold standard, although the first years of our period involved America's return to gold after the inflationary greenback financing of the Civil War. The First World War, with its accompanying explosion of government debt and inflation, severely disrupted the international gold standard, although the effect on America appeared to be small. However, the currently prevailing view of the Great Depression attributes it primarily to monetary contraction. In the view of many blame for this contractions lies with the gold standard.

The advanced options of the History of Science and Medicine programmes are also available for Economic and Social History candidates; and candidates may choose – with the support of their supervisor – papers from other suitable MPhil programmes, such as Economics.


MSt in Economic and Social History

A dissertation of not more than 15,000 words on a topic of the student's choice, submitted in August. Students will begin to formulate and plan their dissertation in conjunction with their supervisors from the beginning of the course.

MPhil in Economic and Social History

A dissertation of not more than 30,000 words. Students will begin to formulate and plan their dissertation in conjunction with their supervisors from the beginning of the course.

The 1+1 programme is a unique, two-year postgraduate experience which offers you the opportunity to combine the depth of our specialised, one-year MSc in Economic and Social History with the breadth of Saïd Business School’s top-ranking, one-year MBA.  As a result, you will embark from Oxford with the skills to translate specific domain knowledge into practical and innovative solutions to the many challenges facing our 21st Century world.

In addition, the Oxford Pershing Square Graduate Scholarship is available for up to five extraordinary 1+1 students who are committed to addressing world-scale social challenges. The Scholarship provides full funding for tuition, college fees and living expenses for both the MSc and MBA year.

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