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Unit information: History of Economic Thought in 2017/18

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Unit name History of Economic Thought
Unit code ECON20021
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Birdi
Open unit status Not open

None. A general knowledge of economics appropriate to the second year of an economics degree will be assumed.



School/department School of Economics
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law


The course focuses on both themes (such as the labour theory of value, the Law of Markets, gender in economics) to detailed studies of selected authors (e.g. Hume, Say, Malthus, Keynes). The unit is largely based on reading extracts from primary texts although some attention is also paid to the secondary literature, the contemporary reception of the works and the historical situations in which they were written.

The course aims to provide an overview of the development of economics since the Ancient Greeks although the main focus is from the mercantilist period to Keynes. It aims to provide a familiarity with some of the major writings in the history of economic thinking and to set these in the context of the development of capitalist economies. Emphasis will be placed on accounts of value, distribution and accumulation.

Intended learning outcomes

At the end of this unit students should be able to display;

(i) An ability to discuss key ideas in the history of economic thought including how those ideas were transmitted, contested and developed by various authors.

(ii) An ability to discuss critically and in depth the contribution made by major authors in the history of economic thought.

(iii) An ability to support their writing with appropriate attribution through quotation and citation.

(iv) An ability to assess and compare economic arguments presented in unfamiliar terminology and with implicit assumptions different from those of modern mainstream economics.

(v) An ability to reflect on modern economics through an historical perpective.

Teaching details

18 one hour lectures and 8 one hour classes

Assessment Details

The learning outcomes will be assessed by

  • Two essays of up to 2000 words each (50% each).

One of these essays will examine the student’s appreciation of the development of important economic themes, drawing out influences and the inheritance of ideas (ILOs 1, 3, 4, 5). The other will examine the student’s ability to probe one or more authors’ writings in depth with an emphasis on textual exegesis, interpretation and secondary debates (ILOs 2,3,4,5).

In addition there will be a formative 1500 word essay submitted in the first term which will provide students with an opportunity to practice both types of writing that will be assessed.

One summative essay will be due in the final weeks of the unit’s teaching and the other summative essay will be due after the end of the unit’s teaching. The formative essay will be due half way into the unit.

Reading and References

Blaug, M. (2006). Economic Theory in Retrospect. Cambridge University Press.

Rima, I. (2009). Development of Economic Analysis. Routledge. 7th ed.

Heilbroner, R (2000). The Worldly Philosophers. Penguin.

Medema, S. and Samuels, W. (eds) (2013). The History of Economic Thought: A Reader. Routledge. 2nd ed.