Generating the Wealth of Nations

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Course Date: 01 September 2014 to 10 November 2014 (10 weeks)

Price: free

Course Summary

A survey of the history of economic development in the world in the past 300 years.

Estimated Workload: 6-8 hours/week

Course Instructors

Jeffrey Borland

Jeff Borland is Professor of Economics at the University of Melbourne, where
he teaches economic history. He has a B.A. (Hons) in Economics and History from the University of Melbourne, and a PhD in Economics from Yale University. In 2010 he was Visiting Professor of Australian Studies at Harvard University. He has also held visiting teaching positions at the University of Iowa and University of Wisconsin-Madison, and has been a senior research fellow at the Australian National University. As well as economic history, Jeff teaches microeconomics and sports economics. In 2007 he was awarded an Australian Carrick Citation for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning. At the University of Melbourne he has been a recipient of the Ed Brown University Teaching Prize and the Dean’s Award for Individual Teaching, and as a graduate student at Yale University he was awarded the Raymond Powell Prize for Excellence in Teaching in the Department of Economics.

Course Description

If you had been alive at the start of the eighteenth century, your material well-being would have been much the same whichever region of the world you lived in, and it would almost certainly have been a precarious existence.  Go back 300 years before the eighteenth century, and not much was different.  But come forward 300 years to the present, and we see a startling transformation.

Incomes in some parts of the world have increased more than ten-fold; and now it most certainly does matter where you live – with income differentials of 50 times between the world’s richest and poorest countries.  What has changed in the past 300 years is the development and application of new technologies at a pace unprecedented in human history – the steam engine, electricity and the computer, to name just a few.  With these developments, for those who have access to them, have come huge gains in living standards.

In this course we’ll explore the spectacular (but uneven) story of economic development – beginning with the Malthusian era, moving on to the take-off of growth in the Industrial Revolution and the Great Divergence in living standards that followed, and finishing in the present with the Global Financial Crisis.  We’ll cover the main episodes and events in the development of the world economy in the past 300 years, and have something to say about most regions of the world.  As well as dealing with ‘what happened’, the course will emphasise what is known about ‘why’ – and what lessons historical experience can provide for understanding how some countries today are so rich yet others remain so poor.

Course image: Copyright JL Brown. Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0)


Will I receive a statement after completing this course?
Yes. Students who successfully complete the class will receive a Statement of Accomplishment signed by the instructor.

What sort of assessment will there be?
There are three (3) peer assignments where students will be asked to submit a document assignment on a topic, and then review, mark (using a rubric provided by the course Instructor) and give feedback on a number of other students' assignments. All three assignments must be completed to a satisfactory level to achieve a Statement of Accomplishment for this course.

Do I earn University of Melbourne credits upon completion of this course? 
No. The Statement of Accomplishment is not part of a formal qualification from the University. However, it may be useful to demonstrate prior learning and interest in your subject to a higher education institution or potential employer.


The course will cover the development of the world economy by concentrating on the following main episodes and events:
  • Introduction to the history of economic development
  • The Malthusian Era 
  • The Industrial revolution
  • The first era of globalisation and the rise of the United States
  • The Great Depression
  • The Golden Age
  • Japan and High Performing Asian Economies
  • China and former Soviet Union
  • The history of economic development in Africa
  • The history of economic development in Latin America


This course will run for ten weeks, including two weeks of assessment at the end. There will be a number of video lectures presented each week as well as discussion groups and written assignments.

Suggested Reading

The lectures are designed to be self-contained and there are no required readings for this course.

Course Workload

6-8 hours/week

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