Advanced Paper Synopsis

The economic history of Europe between the wars 

(Dr Oliver Grant, History Faculty)


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Economic history is central to the history of the interwar period. The main issues and the main problems were economic ones. The failure of European states to achieve prosperity and stability had a devastating effect on European politics and society, bringing about the collapse of the world trading system and the extinction of democracy in many countries. In this course we will seek to understand the nature of these problems and to analyse the policy mistakes which contributed to this lamentable record.

Course requirements : There will be eight fortnightly tutorial sessions, on Fridays at 2pm in Hilary and Trinity terms, at the European Studies Centre, St Antony’s College. Students will be expected to deliver essays of between 1500 and 2500 words prior to the tutorials and these will then form the basis of the class discussions.

There will be 8 tutorial topics:

  1. The economic consequences of the First World War and the Versailles peace settlement
    By the time of the Ruhr crisis of 1923, it was clear that the interlocking issues of Allied war debts and reparations would poison international relations and constitute an impediment to cooperation between the major European economies. Were these problems genuinely insoluble? Or were statesmen driven by short-term political expediency to make demands which they knew would be impossible to fulfil?
  2. Inflation and hyper-inflation in the 1920s
    All countries had problems controlling inflation after the end of World War I, but in most cases this was brought under control by the mid-1920’s. In some, however, the inflationary process was not contained but accelerated into hyper-inflation, which had immensely damaging social and economic consequences. What were the reasons for this? Could this have been averted?
  3. Unemployment and unemployment policies
    Throughout the interwar period recorded unemployment was higher than in the pre-1914 period. Was it due to mistaken economic policies? Or the structural dislocations caused by the war? Or other factors? And could more have been done about this? Or were policy-makers blind to the potential benefits from unorthodox economic remedies?
  4. The restoration of the pre-war Gold Standard and the Great Depression of 1929-1933
    The restoration of the Gold Standard has been blamed for the extent and severity of the depression, transmitting shocks between the major economies and inhibiting policy responses. Could greater flexibility have mitigated the depression? Was the attachment to Gold a major factor in the deflationary process?
  5. The reasons for the exceptional severity of the depression in Germany, 1929-1933, and policy options prior to the Nazi take-over
    Of all the European economies, Germany was the hardest hit by the depression and the political consequences were disastrous. Were there alternative policies which could have brought about a recovery? Or was the Weimar economy subject to structural weaknesses which were untreatable within a normal democratic framework?
  6. Economic policy in France and Italy in 1929-39 and the formation of the Gold Bloc
    Cooperation was not completely absent in the 1930’s, and a group of countries led by France and Italy combined to maintain the link to Gold after this had been abandoned by Britain, Germany and the US. But the record of the Gold Bloc was not a good one, and the Bloc dissolved in 1936-7. Does this show that international cooperation was a mistake in the circumstances of the 1930’s? Or were there special factors which doomed the Gold Bloc to failure?
  7. The role of protectionism in the economic problems of the interwar period
    In the aftermath of depression tariff barriers were raised in many countries, and the international payments system collapsed. Did this inhibit recovery? Or was protectionism a benefit for some countries?
  8. Recovery policies in Britain and Germany
    Policies in Britain and Germany make a stark contrast: orthodox monetary expansion in Britain and Nazi radicalism in Germany. But which worked best? Does the record show that Nazi policies were responsible for the strength of the initial German recovery? Or did recovery ultimately depend on rearmament in both countries?