Please see also our list of other courses on capitalism and economic history elsewhere at Harvard.  

  • Workshop on the Political Economy of Modern Capitalism

Professors Sven Beckert and Christine Desan

The course consists of two parts. First, students will be expected to attend our bi-weekly meetings.  A number of those meetings are reading sessions:  we will discuss important contributions, both classic and contemporary, to the study of capitalism.  The remaining sessions will be the meetings of the "Workshop on the Political Economy of Modern Captialism," where scholars interested in themes of political economy will present their works-in-progress. 

Offered: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2017 (see Workshop page for past syllabi)

  • History of American Capitalism

Professor Sven Beckert

This course examines major trajectories of development of American capitalism.  Focusing on the reasons for and effects of capitalist growth, students gain an understanding of how North America turned from a relatively minor outpost of the Atlantic economy to the powerhouse of the world economy, and how this in turn shaped the ways Americans produced and lived.  Topics range from the structure of Native-American economies to the economic consequences of the Civil War; from the impact of capitalism on gender relations to the changing structures of American businesses; and from the position of the United States economy in the world economy to the role of the government in channeling economic development. The course will put particular emphasis on the global context of American economic development and situate it deeply in the political and social developments of the age. 

Offered: Spring 2007, Spring 2010, Spring 2011, Spring 2013, Spring 2018

  • Law and Development

Professors Christine Desan, Lucie White, Duncan Kennedy, Mark Wu

This course examines how a variety of economic development strategies are institutionalized in law. It compares how those approaches are conceptualized by economists and other experts and how international organizations have debated, contested, or enabled those approaches to law and development. 

Offered: Fall 2017

  • The Constitutional Law of Money

Professor Christine Desan

Every political community faces an elemental challenge: how will it mobilize resources for its own use? Just as importantly, how will it enable individuals to measure and move value between themselves? Modern societies have responded by making and managing money. Debates over money's creation are therefore foundational to governance and they explode in formative decades. This course will explore those debates in the United States during the Critical Period and early Republic, the 1860s, and the 1930s.

Offered: Fall 2017 

  • Legal Architecture of Globalization

Professor Christine Desan

An integrated political economy now covers much of the globe; this course considers that historical development as a matter both carried out and contested through law.  It focuses on the creation of monetary systems and financial institutions that cross national boundaries.  The course seeks to explore those innovations as matters of governance, and tracks them through such historical dimensions as the British Empire, American state-building, and the 20th century architecture of the international order.  The course aims to illuminate the power and limitations of the modern political economy, as well as the controversies that surround it. 

Offered:  Spring 2010, Spring 2012, Spring 2017

  • History of European Capitalism: Conference Course

Professor Sven Beckert

During the past 250 years, Europe's economies were revolutionized by the advent and spread of capitalism. Exploring the origins and economic, political, social and cultural consequences of this change, this course will deal with a wide range of issues from the transformation of the countryside in eighteenth century England, to the emergence of heavy industry in the Ruhr Valley a hundred years later, to the history of European labor movements. We will pay special attention to the connections between Europe and the rest of the world and the varieties of capitalism as they came to characterize the European continent. This course will be taught in Freiburg, Germany, as part of the Harvard College Europe Program, and will include excursions to important sites of European capitalism from the city of Liverpool to the steel works of the Ruhr. 

Offered: Spring 2012

  • History of Capitalism: Seminar

Professor Sven Beckert

This graduate research seminar will focus on the global history of capitalism since 1750. After an introduction to some of the central debates in the economic, social and political history of capitalism, students will be guided to write a major research paper.

Offered: Fall 2011

  • Harvard and Slavery

Professor Sven Beckert

Will explore the links between Harvard and slavery during the first 229 years of the university's history. Students will write original research papers on various aspects of the history of Harvard University and slavery, including how resources extracted from slave labor benefited the university, the ways Harvard administrators and faculty supported or struggled against the institution of slavery, and what kinds of links the university built to slaveholder

Offered: Spring 2011

  • Legal Dynamics of the Modern Political Economy

Professor Christine Desan

As the financial crisis of 2008 made all too clear, the modern political economy depends on a fragile and complex infrastructure.  Much of that engineering is done through law:  institutions of property and contract, the systems that create money, the fractional reserve system, complicated derivatives.   This reading group will discuss texts that seek to denaturalize “the market” and matters economic by examining the legal doctrines that compose them.  

Offered: Fall 2010

  • Globalizing Capital

Professor Christine Desan

This reading course considers the political economy of the modern world from several angles.  As we read each account, we will ask how law functions to affect, define, or undermine the current order.  Tentative readings include Karl Polanyi’s classic, The Great Transformation, and notable modern interventions, including Peter Cain and Tony Hopkin’s, British Imperialism, 1688-2000, Joseph Stiglitz’s Globalization and its Discontents, and Barry Eichengreen’s, Globalizing Capital

Offered: 2008