Economic history


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Dam Square with the New Town Hall under Construction (1656) by Johannes Lingelbach. Photo courtesy The Amsterdam Museum/Wikipedia

Essay/
Global history
How Europe became so rich

In a time of great powers and empires, just one region of the world experienced extraordinary economic growth. How?

Joel Mokyr

‘Scenes from the Life of St Matthew’ 1390-1399, by Niccolo' di Pietro Gerini, Church of San Francesco, Prato, Italy. St Matthew is the patron saint of bankers. Photo by Getty Images

Essay/
Economic history
Of money and morals

Moneylending has been taboo for most of human history. So how did usury stop being a sin and become respectable finance?

Alex Mayyasi

A hologram of Adam Smith adorns the British £20 note. Photo by Jim Dyson/Getty

Essay/
Political philosophy
The real Adam Smith

He might be the poster boy for free-market economics, but that distorts what Adam Smith really thought

Paul Sagar

Detail from Cerro Rico and the Imperial Municipality of Potosí (1758), by Gaspar Miguel de Berrío. Courtesy Museo Universitario Charcas, Sucre, Bolivia/AKG
 

Essay/
Cities
The first global city

High in the Andes, Potosí supplied the world with silver, and in return reaped goods and peoples from Burma to Baghdad

Kris Lane

Lemon vendors in Palermo, Sicily, in 1943. Photo by J R Eyerman/LIFE Picture Collection/Getty

Essay/
Economic history
The big squeeze

Sicily’s mafia sprang from the growing global market for lemons – a tale with sour parallels for consumers today

Ola Olsson

Newly built Volkswagen Beetles ready for shipping from Hamburg in 1972. Photo by Thomas Hoepker/Magnum

Essay/
Economic history
End of a golden age

Unprecedented growth marked the era from 1948 to 1973. Economists might study it forever, but it can never be repeated. Why?

Marc Levinson

Plan of the French slave ship La Marie Seraphique c.1770. © Château des ducs de Bretagne - Musée d'histoire de Nantes. 

Essay/
Economic history
Slavery as free trade

The 18th-century thinkers behind laissez-faire economics saw slavery as a great example of global free trade

Blake Smith

Dark Satanic Mills. October 1948. Photo Robert Capa © International Center of Photography

Essay/
Religion
Mammon

Far from representing rationality and logic, capitalism is modernity’s most beguiling and dangerous form of enchantment

Eugene McCarraher

US President Bill Clinton standing in Red Square during a Moscow summit in January 1994.  Photo by Diana Walker/Time Life Pictures/Getty

Essay/
Economic history
Economics as a moral tale

The development sector set out to summon the magic of capitalism from the ashes of communism. How is it going?

John Rapley

The August 1926 edition of Radio Broadcast magazine, three years before the 1929 crash. Scan courtesy of Americanradiohistory.com

Essay/
Economic history
The economics of bubbles

Market booms and busts might be irrational, but we can understand why they happen – and what to do to mitigate the damage

Brent Goldfarb & David A Kirsch

A group portrait, thought to be members of the Ranters, Bethany College, Virginia, 1851. Photo courtesy Library of Congress

Essay/
Education
An unlikely triumph

In its first century the American higher-education system was a messy, disorganised joke. How did it rise to world dominance?

David Labaree

At a tea house in Kashgar's Old City, China, 2009. Kashgar, now in the  Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, has a rich and ancient history and was an important city on the Silk trading routes. Photo by Michael Christopher Brown, Magnum

Essay/
Economic history
The heart of the world

The Silk Road – from the Eastern Mediterranean to China’s Pacific shore – is once again the centre of the world

Peter Frankopan

Jewish bankers from the Canticles of Holy Mary. Codice of El Escorial. Written in Galician-Portuguese. Reign of Alfonso X. 13th century. Courtesy the Museum of the Americas, Madrid/Wikimedia

Essay/
Global history
The rumour about the Jews

Antisemitism flourished in response to the unsettling, abstract growth of finance capitalism in the early modern world

Francesca Trivellato

Detail from Nagasaki Harbour (c1833-6), by Kawahara Keiga. Ink and colour on silk. On the left is the crescent-shaped island of Deshima (flying the national flag), from which the Dutch were the only Westerners to trade with Japan from 1641 to 1859. Courtesy the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Essay/
Nations and empires
Asia had the upper hand

For centuries, Europeans in Asia were guests, trading partners and subordinates. Only much later did Empire seem imaginable

Chris Nierstrasz

Azulejos (ceramic tiles) depicting a galleon off the coast, made by Jose Antonio Ortega and El Lledoner's workshop. Spain, 20th century. Photo by Getty

Essay/
Economic history
Cruel ships of prosperity

For more than two centuries the huge profits and profound suffering of the Manila Galleons helped create global capitalism

David Z Morris