Economic and Social History

Research theme

Cambridge has been a leading centre for the study of economic and social history since the pioneering work of William Cunningham and Ellen McArthur in the 1890s on the industrial history of Britain. The Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure, founded in 1964 to understand the family and community structures underlying economic and social history, was named by the Economic & Social Research Council as amongst the most important post-war contributions to British social science. The more recent development of cultural history is closely connected with social and economic structures. We study regions across the globe, from the medieval to the modern age.


Our work in this area

We are committed to collaborative work on economic, social and cultural themes and methodologies. The history of the economy, society and culture often being inseparable from the history of power and its uses and institutions, we also study policy and politics. We reach out to other disciplines including historical demography and geography, social and political sciences, literature, art history and divinity. Our members are linked with the History and Policy website, the Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structure, the Centre for History and Economics, the Centre for Financial History, the Labour History Cluster, and the Fitzwilliam Museum.

Our individual research interests are found under 'People' below. The research environment is diverse but there are particular strengths in: demographic history; history of the family; equality and welfare systems; long-term economic development; the history of economic thought; the relationship between the state, culture and economy; environmental history; gender; labour; financial and credit history.

The principal graduate training course is the ESRC-recognized MPhil in Economic and Social History, although many students receive training in economic, social and cultural history in one of the other specialized MPhil programmes.

MPhil and PhD students attend research seminars alongside more senior academics. For economic, social and cultural history, the most relevant seminars are:

In the Michaelmas Term, 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.

The Ellen McArthur Lectures take place biennially. Recent series delivered by Professor Avner Offer on time horizons in finance and by Professor Jane Humphries on gendering the industrial revolution are available in podcasts.


The following people specialise in this area both within their own research and in collaboration with others. Many of our members teach or supervise based on their expertise.

Research Area Contacts

Convenor: Professor Paul Warde

Graduate Comms Officer: Rashaad Eshack

Industrial scene with power equipment and wheel
Sir John Harold Clapham
Cambridge historian; in A Concise Economic History Of Britain
Economic advance is not the same thing as human progress. The man with a motor-car may have less imagination, and perhaps a baser religion, than the men who frequented Stonehenge. But economy activity, with its tools, fields, trade, inventions and investment, is the basement of a man's house.
Page credits & information

Banner image: Industrialisation: 19th C. town in Lancashire. Wellcome Collection.