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Economics 201

European Economic History


Fall 2001

MWF 9-9:50

HRM 303


R. N. Langlois

Room 322 Monteith

Office hours: MWF 11-12
or by appointment



Objectives. This course studies the economic development of Europe from prehistoric times to the early twentieth century. Although the course is chronological, the vastness of such a history necessarily means that we will be selective in our treatment, focusing on a few episodes and approaches.


In general, the course will try to explain the uniqueness of Western Europe. Why was Western Europe (including Great Britain) able to achieve sustained economic growth in a way that no other part of the world - including the great civilizations of history - was able to do?


Textbooks. As there is no single text that covers the material in the way I wish to present it, the lectures in this course will be extremely important. (Do not expect to do well if you do not come to class religiously). The closest thing we will have to a textbook is


        Rondo Cameron, A Concise Economic History of the World. (Oxford, 1996.)


There are four other books at the bookstore from which I will assign readings.


        Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel. New York: Norton, 1997.


        Douglass C. North, Structure and Change in Economic History. New York: Norton, 1981.


        Nathan Rosenberg and L. E. Birdzell, Jr., How the West Grew Rich. New York: Basic Books, 1986.


        Joel Mokyr, The Lever of Riches. New York: Oxford, 1990.


I have also placed some readings on reserve in Babbidge Library.


Internet. Note that a number of readings below are available electronically. Note also that, for copyright reasons, some links are accessible only from computers connected to the Internet through the UConn domain. If you live off campus and are connecting through a private ISP, check with the computer center about something called a proxy server. Many articles available on the web are in Adobe Acrobat (PDF) format. To read them, you will need the Adobe Acrobat reader. This should already be installed on University microlab computers. But if you don't have it, you can download it for free.


Other useful links. EH.Net maintains a website with links to a wide range of resources related to economic history. The Internet Medieval Sourcebook contains a wealth of links on medieval economic history. I may add more links as the semester progresses, so check back regularly.


Course Requirements. Your grade will be based on two midterms and a final.


Midterm 1


Midterm 2





The final will be cumulative, but will stress the material covered after the second midterm. The exams will be mostly essay, but they may also contain some matching, identification, or true/false components.



Sequence of topics.


1. Introduction: social institutions and economic development.


Douglass C. North, Structure and Change in Economic History. New York: Norton, 1981, chapters 1-6.


Joel Mokyr, The Lever of Riches. New York: Oxford, 1990, chapters 7 and 11.


2. Prehistoric and Ancient Europe.


Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel, as much as you can, but especially the prologue and chapters 1, 3, 4, 5, 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14.


Rondo Cameron, A Concise Economic History of the World, chapter 2.


North, Structure and Change, chapters 7-9.


Bruce Bartlett, " How Excessive Government Killed Ancient Rome," The Cato Journal 14(2), Fall 1994.


3. Feudalism.


Cameron, Chapter 3.


North, chapter 10.


Carl Dahlman, The Open Field System and Beyond. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1980. (On reserve: HD604.D33.)


Stefano Fenoaltea, "Transaction Costs, Whig History, and the Common Fields," in B. Gustafsson, ed., Power and Economic Institutions: Reinterpretations in Economic History, Aldershot: Edward Elgar, 1991, pp. 107-169 (On reserve: HC21.P68 1991.)



4. Mercantilism.


Cameron, chapters 5 and 6.


Avner Grief, Paul Milgrom, and Barry Weingast, "Coordination, Commitment, and Enforcement: the Case of the Merchant Guild," Journal of Political Economy 102(4): 745-776 (1994).


Robert B. Ekelund and Robert D. Tollison, Mercantilism as a Rent-seeking Society : Economic Regulation in Historical Perspective. College Station, Tex. : Texas A&M University Press, 1981. (On reserve: HB91.E4.)


5. The revival of trade.


Douglass C. North and Barry W. Weingast, "The Evolution of Institutions Governing Public Choice in 17th Century England," Journal of Economic History 49: 803-32 (1989).


Nathan Rosenberg and L. E. Birdzell, Jr., How the West Grew Rich, chapter 4.


Meir Kohn, The Origins of Western Economic Success: Commerce, Finance, and Government in Pre-Industrial Europe. Manuscript, Dartmouth College.


6. The Industrial Revolution.


Cameron, chapter 7.


Mokyr, , chapter 5.


Rosenberg and Birdzell, chapter 5.


7. The Factory System.


Rosenberg and Birdzell, chapters 6-9.


Axel Leijonhufvud, "Capitalism and the Factory System," in R. N. Langlois, ed., Economics as a Process: Essays in the New Institutional Economics. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986, pp. 203-223.


Richard N. Langlois, "The Coevolution of Technology and Organization in the Transition to the Factory System," in Paul L. Robertson, ed., Authority and Control in Modern Industry. London: Routledge, 1999.


8. Britain in the nineteenth century.


Cameron, chapters 8 and 9.


William Mass and William Lazonick, "The British Cotton Industry and International Comparative Advantage: the State of the Debates," Business History 32: 9-65 (October 1990). (On the third floor of Babbidge Library.)



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