Advanced paper synopsis

The Growth of a Metropolis: Society and Economy in London, 1550–1700

(Dr Ian Archer, Keble College)


This course is intended to explore the causes, and consequences for London, of its rise to dominance. It will begin with some consideration of European urban development more generally in the period, and the growth of other capital cities and ports, and then concentrate on London: its demographic and spatial growth; their roots in the city’s role as commercial entrepôt and as social and political capital; their consequences for social structure, balance of occupations, social problems, and mechanisms of government and social regulation. Particular attention will be paid throughout to the growing social and economic contrasts between City, West End, and eastern suburbs.

Course objectives

The aims of the course are to acquaint students with some of the key problems in the economic and social history of London in this period, to introduce them to some of the key sources for the study of the capital in this period, and to look at the city’s experience in a broader comparative perspective. All students will study the reasons for the city’s growth, placing it in the context of urban growth in England and the continent, and the demography of the city. Other topics for study will be chosen from the following menu: local government, social policy, crime, popular politics, the experience of women, the built environment, social topography, the role of the guilds, the experience of immigrants, foreign perceptions. At least one of the assignments must draw heavily on primary source materials.

Course requirements

There will be eight sessions which will take place during the latter part of Hilary term and the early part of Trinity term, although it is usually possible for the timetabling to be flexible to mesh with the requirements of other advanced papers. Students will write six papers in the course of the programme. Papers on the growth of London and the demography of the city are compulsory; the other papers may be drawn from the list given above. One student will be expected to commence each session with a brief presentation summarising their paper and raising general issues for group discussion. Students taking the written examination are reminded that they will have to answer one question of a methodological nature, and two other questions.

Core bibliography