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Economic, Social and Cultural History

Subject Group

Convenor : Dr Amy Erickson

Web Officer : 

The History Faculty at Cambridge has a long tradition of distinguished research and teaching in economic and social history from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century. J. H. Clapham introduced a paper in 'English Economic History' in 1909 and was the first occupant of the chair in economic history created in 1928. He was followed in the chair by M. M. Postan. In the years after World War Two, Cambridge pioneered the study of historical demography and social history, which led to the founding of the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure in 1964 by Peter Laslett and E. A. Wrigley. In more recent times, cultural history has joined economic and social history as a strength of the Faculty.


Economic, social and cultural history at Cambridge is distinguished by more than its impressive breadth and depth of coverage. We are proud of our shared commitment to balanced attention to economic, social and cultural themes and methodologies. Indeed, one important research frontier is now located at the meeting point of the economic, the social and the cultural. We recognize also that the history of the economy, society and culture is often inseparable from the history of power and its uses and institutions, in short, policy and politics. Although much of our work focuses on Britain, we are committed to comparative and transnational perspectives. This is reflected in the fact that many members of this subject group are members of other subject groups as well (Ancient and Medieval, Early ModernModern EuropeanModern British, World History). We reach out, in every direction, to other disciplines: historical demography and geography, social and political sciences, literature, art history and divinity. Members of this subject group edit the History and Policy website and maintain collaborative links with the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure, the Centre for History and Economics, the Centre for Financial History, and the Fitzwilliam Museum.

Details about individual research programmes can be found by using the links under 'People' below. However, some of the research themes that link us in formal or informal collaboration are these:

  • Long term developments in the economy, population and social structure (Allen, Austin, Briggs, Daunton, Mora-Sitja, Muldrew, Shaw-Taylor, Szreter, Warde)
  • The role of labour (Austin, Lawrence, Mora-Sitja, Shaw-Taylor, Williams)
  • The economy as a cultural phenomenon (Austin, Daunton, Muldrew)
  • Popular religious and political cultures (Atkins, Peters, Watkins)
  • The history of sex, gender and the family (Austin, Delap, Erickson, Foyster, Klein, Mora-Sitja, Shaw-Taylor, Szreter, Thom)
  • Money, finance, credit and worth (Allen, Briggs, Muldrew, Needham)
  • Relationships between the state, policy, politics and civil society (Austin, Daunton, Delap, Klein, Mandler, Needham, Ramos Pinto, Szreter, Thom, Williams)
  • Comparative and transnational studies, with a particular focus on environmental and economic change (Austin, Daunton, Mandler, Mora-Sitja, Needham, Ramos Pinto, Shaw-Taylor, Szreter, Warde)


Postgraduate Teaching and Related Activities

Graduate training in economic, social and cultural history proceeds in several MPhil courses that vary in subject matter and combine, in different patterns, taught, supervised and written components. The principal vehicle of graduate training is the ESRC-recognized MPhil in Economic and Social History. However, many students receive training in economic, social and cultural history in one of the other specialized MPhil programmes. Many students proceed from successful work in an MPhil at Cambridge or at another institution to the PhD programme.

An important element of graduate training is the research seminar, attended by graduate students, Faculty and members of the wider academic community. For economic, social and cultural history, the most relevant seminars are:

In the Michaelmas Term, most of the above seminars combine together to form the Core Seminar in Economic and Social History.

Graduate students also run their own workshops in specific fields: Economic and Social History Workshop, Cultural History Workshop, World History Workshop, and Gender and Sexuality History Workshop.

Undergraduate Teaching

undergrad field trip2

In Part I of the Tripos, the economic, social and cultural history of Britain is taught in five chronologically distinguished papers:

  • Paper 7, British Economic and Social History 380-1100
  • Paper 8, British Economic and Social History 1050-c.1500
  • Paper 9, British Economic and Social History c.1500-1750
  • Paper 10, British Economic and Social History 1700-1880
  • Paper 11, British Economic and Social History since c.1880

In addition, several Themes and Sources options cover topics in economic, social and cultural history. These are:

  • Option i: Money and society from Late Antiquity to the early modern period
  • Option x: Wealth and poverty in West Africa, from the slave trades to the present
  • Option xiii: Earning a living 1377-1911: work, occupations, gender and economic development in England
  • Option XV: World environmental history

Part II of the Tripos offers opportunities for deeper investigation of economic, social and cultural history. Three specified subjects (supervised papers) are currently offered:

  • Paper 19: The problem of sustainability
  • Paper 20: World population, development and environment since 1750: comparative history and policy
  • Paper 22: The long road to modernization: Spain, 1800-2000


Briggs Black Death teaching session










Two special subjects are offered:

  • Option H: Food and drink in Britain and the wider world, c.1550-1800
  • Option L: The transformation of everyday life in Britain, 1945-1990


People specializing in this area