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Economic History as Global History (Maxine Berg)

Why are we so rich and they so poor? This is the big question that has shaped agendas in economic history for many generations. From the 1990s the comparative economic histories centred on European exceptionalism turned to global approaches. Studies of nations and regions were no longer enough. China, India and Africa became central to comparisons focussed on economic growth, standards of living, knowledge economies and environment. The ‘great divergence’ between the East and the West shaped a generation’s thinking on the factors underlying economic growth. This seminar considers the debate on the ‘great divergence’ and how it has affected the questions of economic history. It tackles methodologies of comparison and reciprocal comparison, and discusses the role of social institutions, the state, culture and environment in the history of global inequalities.


  1. Is global comparative history possible? Does reciprocal comparison redress the problems?
  2. What are the grounds for the timing of the ‘great divergence’. Is this a story about China or about the Industrial Revolution?
  3. What part do institutions and knowledge economies play in theories of industrialization?



Maxine Berg, ed., Writing the History of the Global: Challenges for the Twenty-first Century, chapters by Berg and de Vries [e-book]

Robert C. Allen, Global Economic History: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford, 2011)

Kenneth Pomeranz, The Great Divergence: China, Europe and the Making of the Modern World Economy (Princeton, 2000), chap.1 (pp. 1-28) [e-book]

‘Assessing Kenneth Pomeranz’s The Great Divergence: a Forum’, Historically Speaking, vol. 4, September, 2011, pp. 10-25. [e-journal]



David Washbrook, ‘India in the Early Modern World Economy: Modes of Production, Reproduction and Exchange’, Journal of Global History 2 (2007), pp. 87-111.

Gareth Austin, ‘Reciprocal Comparisons and African History: Tackling Conceptual Eurocentrism in the Study of Africa’s Economic Past’, African Studies Review, 50 (2007), pp. 1-28.

Marten Jerven, ‘An Uneven Playing Field: Comparisons in Global Economic History’, Journal of Global History 7 (2012), pp. 107-128.

Maxine Berg, ed., Writing the History of the Global, chapter by Sugihara on East Asian Development Paths.

Robert C. Allen, The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective (Cambridge, 2009), chap. 6 ‘Why was the Industrial Revolution British?’