Updated January 2021 with information about the new English-language Master in Institutions and Political Economy at the University of Barcelona.
If you are interested in why some countries became rich and others stayed poor, then a Masters in Economic History could be the degree you are looking for.
While development economics and development studies study poverty today, much (but by no means all) of economic history concerns why some countries managed to escape poverty (all countries started poor) and others didn’t. This too has important lessons for poor countries today.
There are other reasons to study economic history, and the field is about other things as well. But to stay focused let’s discuss this one. When undergraduate students tell me that they would like to study more economic history, this is the usual reason they point out. It was also what attracted me to the field from the start.
This post is written for all students who wish some guidance in this matter, and possibly for some teachers who may wish to direct them as well. There is an earlier list by eh.net but it is rather incomplete insofar as European schools are concerned, seems to be outdated, and does not distinguish MSc from PhD programs (that is, many of the schools it lists are US schools that do not offer a terminal MSc degree).
Employers tend place good value in masters in economic history, which they see as presenting a good balance between the quantitative skills of economics and the essay-writing craftsmanship of history.
Of course, a Masters in Economic History can be also a good entry point for a PhD in economic history itself, or one in economics, in history, or in related fields such as political science.
My review below will be centered on good schools in Europe. My choice of which schools are included was inevitably somewhat arbitrary and by no means are all good programs included. Most of the programs below are taught in English. (Though I should write here as a disclaimer that anything they announce is their responsibility!)
Note that in the USA students in economics-related fields go straight to PhD and there is no emphasis in independent masters in such areas. My list is based on schools and programs I have had some sort of direct or indirect contact with. The list below is in no particular order –any of these programs should give you a good education. Of course, tuition prices vary widely among some of the universities, so that is a factor to consider as well for those without a scholarship.
In the United Kingdom there is a lot on offer:
- My own University of Manchester does not have a MSc in Economic History, but we have a MA in Economics or a MSc in Economics where you have the option of writing a disseration in Economic History (with me as your supervisor). In the History department, we have several faculty members interested in Economic History as well, such as my Prof. Phil Roessner, so you could alternatively consider an MA in History with a focus on EH.
- The London School of Economics has MSc in Economic History and a (recently started) MSc in Quantitative Economic History. It also has an MSc in Political Economy of Late Development, which is a joint program of the LSE’s Departments of International Development and the Economic History.
- Oxford has an MSc in Economic and Social History.
- Cambridge has an MPhil (11-month full time program) in Economic and Social History.
- Edinburgh has an MA in Economic History.
Several universities in Spain have departments of economic history and offer such masters. Here I list three:
- Carlos III, Madrid has a Master in Economic Development and Growth which is in part about economic history
- The University of Barcelona offers an MSc degree in Economic History and the UAB offers a different: MSc degree in Economic History. The main language of instruction for the first is English.
In Sweden, there are also several departments of economic history.
- One of the best-known is Lund, which offers four masters in matters related to economic history
Again, let me emphasize that I am not endorsing any of these programs, although all of these should be decent; but this list is just to get you started. Many things vary here, including cost. If your favorite school or program isn’t listed, that doesn’t mean that it’s not good. I welcome further suggestions to be added.
Bear in mind that if you want to do a PhD in Economics at a top school, a Masters in Economics is a better bet from a technical perspective, even if you later want to specialize in economic history (of the cliometric kind), despite the fact that an MSc in Economic History would expose you to a different set of ideas and methods. If your first degree is from a North American institution, then know that for PhDs in economics at top US schools, a background in maths or computer science may be more appropriate than even an economics first degree.
A Masters in Economic History may also not be the best entry point for a PhD in History itself either, since not many (“pure”) history departments are friendly towards the quantitatively-inclined methods of modern economic history, though there are exceptions (or better put, there are history departments where some faculty members will be exceptions).
Nonetheless, some economics departments do offer degrees where you can take a graduate course in economic history, and this may be the right balance you’re looking for. For instance, in my former department at the University of Groningen, many students do a research masters in economics while specializing in economic history, and they sit in a graduate course called “Economic Growth in History” (just like this blog).
Other European places have a concentration of economic historians, despite (to my knowledge) not offering MSc degrees in economic history; but you would certainly be taught by some of them if you take a masters in economics or history; examples include the Historical Economics and Development Group of the University of Southern Denmark, the Center for economic history of Queen’s university, Belfast, and, last but certainly not the least, Utrecht has an important cluster of people working on Economic and Social history.
Generally speaking, unlike for a PhD, funding for a master’s is seldom offered. Sometimes, however, at least partial funding is possible. For example, the University of Manchester is committed to widening participation in master’s study and allocates 75 awards of £4,000 each year. The bursaries are aimed at helping students from underrepresented groups access postgraduate education.