How do social and economic disparities arise between and within countries?

The Economic and Social History research group focuses on long-term developments in the world economy and societies, from the late Middle Ages to the present day. Our central research questions are: How do social and economic disparities arise between and within countries? How have these developed and how can they be explained?

In order to answer these questions we chart the long-term development of various regions of the world. We do this by looking at multiple indicators of economic and welfare development such as institutions, the degree of interaction with the global market, geographical aspects, culture and religion.

Comparative perspective

Our research method is characterised by the comparative perspective in which similarities and differences between geographic areas and/or time periods are established. While our expertise covers (regions in) Africa, Asia and Europe, many of our researchers also engage with the Dutch case. The Netherlands – or more accurately 'the Low Countries' – is a special case in world history. As far back as the late Middle Ages and early modern period, the Netherlands already disposed of a strong civil society, well-protected property rights and periods of rapid economic growth. By analysing the development of the Dutch economy and society we attempt to gain an understanding of these patterns of development, which we can then compare with other areas in the world.


A second characteristic of our group’s research approach is its interdisciplinary nature: we use quantitative as well as qualitative methods to test theories from the social and economic sciences. Much of the research takes an in-depth look at various aspects of social and economic development. We examine financial markets, life expectancy and gender inequality, as well as sustainability and how societies dealt with disasters. We also pay much attention to recent business history, in collaboration with representatives from the sector.

Areas of expertise: inequality | institutions | innovation | business history | citizenship | sustainability | gender relations | financial markets | labour history