HIS2171 – Diverging Paths: social and economic development in the West and the East since c. 1700

Schedule, syllabus and examination date

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Course content

A central but as yet unanswered question is why some countries are rich while others are poor. Today, a growing number of scholars address this question by looking to history. Answers are sought by adopting a global perspective, by comparing the development paths of countries and regions across the world, and by analysing the inter-connections between them. This course focuses on some of the key results and unresolved questions this research effort has produced, particularly with regard to the period prior to and during early western European industrialisation and with a focus on Britain and China.

We know that in the 19th century a gap had opened up with, on the one hand, European and North American countries set on a development path towards prosperity, and, on the other hand, most other countries in the world remaining trapped in a situation of poverty. The Western countries broke away from the ‘Malthusian trap’ which prevents long term economic growth as population growth cancels out increases in material welfare. And they shifted from intermittent, ‘extensive’ economic growth (that relied on a more graduated division of labour and is known as ‘Smithian’ growth) to sustained growth, based on continuous innovation and technological change. The rest of the world did not follow suit during this period - it stagnated. So why did this ‘great divergence’ in economic development happen? How can we understand and explain ‘the Rise of the West’ and ‘the Decline of the East’?

The course focuses on two main themes in global history. First, the theme of connections between regions. Here global trade is important, but also cultural exchanges. Second, the theme of comparison. It explores similarities and differences in areas such as living standards, agricultural and industrial developments and also institutions. Furthermore, there is an emphasis on the key issue of ‘knowledge’. If we are to identify and understand the key factors behind innovation based wealth creation then we must analyse the capabilities, practices and conceptions on which innovation rested. And if we want to understand global knowledge creation, then we must look at how knowledge travelled, and how local knowledges interacted with global trends.

This course discusses some of the central issues and questions in the field, with a focus on China and Britain. It examines the vigorous debates, the agreements and disagreements that have evolved during recent years. The overall aim is to increase our understanding of how regional, national and global conditions fostered economic growth in some, but not other parts of the world.

Learning outcome

Students must have a basic understanding of the general trends in Chinese and British economic development during the period, and be able to place this in a global context. Students should be able to compare institutional, cultural and industrial aspects in western and eastern regions. Students must be familiar with the main aspects of the current debates, must know the main concepts, and should master critical reading of the literature. Students must be able to express his or her knowledge in writing and in oral presentations.


Students who are admitted to study programmes at UiO must each semester register which courses and exams they wish to sign up for in Studentweb.

If you are not already enrolled as a student at UiO, please see our information about admission requirements and procedures.


Recommended previous knowledge

30 study points from either HF- or SV-faculty.

A good ability to read and understand English is required for this course.


The course consists of 12 seminars. There will be two seminars per week (each lasting two hours) for a period of 6 weeks.

NB: Admittance to this course requires that you attend the first seminar. If you do not attend the first seminar you will lose your place on the course. That means that you will not be able to sit the examination for this course.

Students are required to write a term paper (6 pages). A first draft of the term paper must be submitted in Canvas at a date to be specified by the teacher. The students will receive comments by the teacher.

During the course, students are also required to present a short, critical paper in class, discussing specific sources or literature. The presentation must also be submitted in Canvas as part of the exam (1 page). Dates will be specified during the course.

The dates and deadlines for all of the assignements can be found in the course detailed teaching schedule.

Please note that the use of internet is an obligatory part of this course, and that all students must use Canvas.

Accepted compulsory activity/assignment is valid the two following semesters during which the course is taught. Exceptions may occur if the form of evaluation alters, if the tuition plan alters significantly, or other substantial adjustments are made.

It is not possible to follow this course without admission to the course since the form of assessment is integrated in the teaching of this course.


This course is examined by the contents of a ’folder’. In this folder must be included:

• A term paper (max. 6 pages)

• Historical sources/literature presentation (max. 1 page)

• A time-limited writing assignement (max. 3 pages)

All of this must be handed in by using Canvas. The files must be submitted in .pdf-format and we stress that the student is responsible for making sure that the files are readable. If you need assistance in converting your files into .pdf, we recommend that you follow these instructions. The files must be named with your candidate number (not your name) and the course code (HIS2171). In the process of uploading the files containing your exams, you will be asked to confirm that the work you are submitting is your own and that you are aware of the University of Oslo's policy concerning academic integrity and cheating. To qualify for uploading you must answer these questions affirmatively.

The examination of this course is integrated in the teaching of the course and it is therefore not possible to sit the examination other than by being admitted to the course.

Grading scale

Grades are awarded on a scale from A to F, where A is the best grade and F is a fail. Read more about the grading system.

Explanations and appeals

Resit an examination

Withdrawal from an examination

It is possible to take the exam up to 3 times. If you withdraw from the exam after the deadline or during the exam, this will be counted as an examination attempt.

Special examination arrangements

Application form, deadline and requirements for special examination arrangements.


The course is subject to continuous evaluation. At regular intervals we also ask students to participate in a more comprehensive evaluation.

Periodic evaluation

Facts about this course






This course is currently not offered.

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