Why Consider a Major in Economic History

Based in the Department of Historical Studies, economic history at UCT offers a humanities centred approach to understanding the economic past. You do not need to have a background in History or Economics to major in economic history. Throughout each of our courses, students will develop the conceptual language and quantitative reasoning necessary to talk about economies over time and space.

The undergraduate programme covers a range of themes, with a particular focus on development over time. For example, how has China has (once again) become one of the most powerful economies in the world? Why do some people think South Africa should imitate the economy of Brazil, but not that of Argentina? Why did Wall Street collapsed in 1929 and what can this teach us about the current global financial crisis? How did colonisation effect economic growth in Africa? Majoring in economic history provides a unique opportunity to focus on economic issues in the past and to consider how they influence the present. At its heart, it asks the question, why are some countries rich and others poor?

With the recent global economic crisis, more and more people are turning to economic history for guidance. Economic history investigates the fascinating questions of why and how economic growth began and the ways in which it has continued and faltered. The field is not just about numbers and mathematical models, nor is it about events and dates. Rather, it is concerned with the processes of economic change and development. As such, economic history is a field full of debate and controversy. It is also not only about markets and businesses but is deeply concerned with politics, geography, institutions, inequality, and the incentives that affect behaviour in societies both large and small.

Particularly in an emerging market economy, the skills and knowledge developed in an economic history major are useful and highly sought after. A major in economic history equips students with the necessary research, analytical and writing skills as well as concepts and terminology to become informed citizens as well as sought after graduates. Former UCT economic history students have gone on to work in a vast array of fields including: economic policymaking for government and NGOs; the private financial sector; marketing and advertising; management; and social responsibility in the corporate sector. Our students have also successfully pursued further graduate study in the fields of both economics and history.