Universiteit Leiden

nl en

Cities, Migration and Global Interdependence (MA)

Economic History

The Economic History specialisation focuses on changes in income, in labour relations, and in the competition between various economies on a world scale. Specific attention is given to institutions through which people build their networks and social capital.

Instead of juxtaposing the Early Modern and the Modern period we are more interested in similarities and continuities with respect to the emergence of networks and institutions in a globalising world since 1600.


Economic History consists of three main themes.

The term globalisation refers primarily to an increase in the exchange of goods, persons and ideas between various parts of the world. Borders, at local, national and supra-national level, play a vital role. In the Early Modern Period the boundaries of cities were often more important than national borders. In the modern period national borders have not proven to be very stable. Numerous new states emerged and the borders between states changed constantly. Moreover, changes of regimes, for example as the result of decolonisation have given new meaning to existing boundaries. We find the debate on the Great Divergence inspiring and think that a global approach to economic development is essential.

The distribution of incomes, means of production and legislations changed dramatically since the 16th century. The 19th and 20th centuries thus lead to an increasing intensity, velocity and impact of the globalisation process. These developments are related to the consumption revolution, which started in the 18th century. You will focus on the economic and social history of labour and consumption and on gender aspects of the labour market, such as women's work and the history of singles, in relation with institutions, urbanisation and the history of crime.

In the 20th Century, we observe a major divergence between the rich countries in the North and poor countries in the South. Also, we observe important differences in the political economy of advanced capitalist states. How did they organise labour relations? Why did they expand the welfare state and what kind of welfare state regimes did they introduce? What was the economic role of institutions and which types of economic policy were pursued? In our analysis we combine political and economic events with (macroeconomic and regional) statistics. This theme focuses on income inequality, globalisation and sustainability.  Other areas of interest are decolonisation and more recently the process of European integration.

Why choose economic history?

Economic historians, more than economists, generally have better insight in the context and the events that influence economic developments. We explore how inequality and social mobility were shaped by past developments, how economic crises shaped outcomes, how different groups experienced economic change. Economic history can be useful for a career in academia, government, journalism, or the private sector. Graduates in economic history found jobs or have become trainee in for example banking, insurance, and government.

Programme structure

The general programme of Economic History consists of the following elements:

  • Literature seminar
  • Research seminar
  • One or two optional courses (at Leiden University, or another university), or opt for an internship
  • Thesis Seminar
  • MA thesis and exam

Detailed programme

For a detailed overview of the curriculum, please check the e-prospectus. This shows the themes we focus on this academic year.


Please note: You can only choose to do Economic History only if you start in September.

How to apply for this track:

  1. Go to Studielink
  2. Select ‘MA History’ and continue the application procedure
  3. When asked for a specialisation, select ‘Cities, Migration, and Global Interdependence’. Studielink automatically directs you to uSis (Leiden University’s online application portal) within 2 or 3 working days.

    Note: you cannot apply separately for the specialisation ‘Economic History’, as this track is part of the ‘Cities, Migration, and Global Interdependence’ specialisation.
  4. In the online application portal, Leiden University will let you know whether you qualify for automatic admission and will guide you through all necessary steps to complete your registration, as well as informing you about what you have to do after applying.

Note: you specifically need to mention your interest in the ‘Economic History’ programme in your motivation letter.

More information

For further questions about the Economic History specialisation, you can contact:

We use cookies. Read the terms and conditions.