The History of Capitalism (Archive)

As part of the Legatum Institute's 'The Culture of Prosperity' programme, the History of Capitalism series was a three-year project that was set up to investigate the origins and development of a movement of thought and endeavour that has transformed the human condition.

Through a programme of lectures, seminars and publications, the series sought to assess case studies in business history and the individual biographies of thinkers, writers and inventors as well as describing particular periods in the histories of cities, states and nations.

In 2015, the Legatum Institute was delighted to welcome students from the Harris Experience—a cultural and academic enhancement programme run by the Harris Federation.

The programme is led by Hywel Williams, Senior Adviser at the Legatum Institute.

History of Capitalism video playlist


Capitalism's characteristic emphasis on freedom of trade and market expansion has encouraged social mobility, global exploration and intellectual curiosity. Wherever and whenever it has appeared across the world's continents capitalism has undermined monopolies, economic protectionism and restrictive practices. Individuals, companies and nations have been enriched materially as a result of the choices and opportunities extended to them by the capitalist dynamo and its liberation of the human spirit has dismantled antiquated ways of thinking as well as outmoded social hierarchies.

Capitalism is the single most important force in the making of the modern world and its impact knows no boundaries. In the wake of the banking collapse of 2008, capitalism has had to surmount a profound economic crisis while also confronting severe attacks on its code of ethics. In studying capitalism's contemporary history, this course investigated the means by which it survived as well as its continuing legitimacy as a moral system.




  • Rewriting the Silk Road: One Belt, One Road and China’s Trading Past

    Speakers: David Abulafia, Hugh Kennedy, Kun-Chin Lin and Bill Hayton

    Date: 25 October, 2016

    Details here.
  • Money and Power: The Bank of England and London in the 18th Century

    Speaker: Anne Murphy, Reader in History and Associate Dean for Research, School of Humanities, University of Hertfordshire

    Date: 28 September, 2016

    Details here.
  • Hong Kong and the Context of Laissez-Faire: Myths and Truths about a 'Free Market Paradise'

    Speaker: Catherine Schenk, Professor of International Economic History, University of Glasgow

    Date: 2 June, 2016

    Details here.
  • Cottonopolis: Manchester, the Growth and Growing Pains of a Modern City

    Speaker: Victoria Bateman, Fellow in Economics at Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge

    Date: 19 April, 2016

    Details here.
  • Copperopolis: Swansea’s Heyday, Decline and Regeneration

    Speaker: Huw Bowen, Professor of Modern History, University of Swansea

    Date: 16 March, 2016

    Details here.
  • Lubeck and the Hanseatic League: The Birthplace of the Common Market

    Speaker: David Abulafia, Professor of Mediterranean History, University of Cambridge

    Date: 10 February, 2016

    Details here.
  • A World Transformed: Studies in the History of Capitalism

    Speaker: Antony Beevor, author and historian

    Date: 12 January, 2016

    Details here.


  • Pop-up University: Does Capitalism in History Increase Inequality or Improve the Lives of the Majority?

    Speakers: David Abulafia and Victoria Bateman (both of University of Cambridge)

    Date: 2 December, 2015

    Details here. 
  • Happy Days: Britain's 'Great' Depression


    Date: 19 November, 2015

    Details here.
  • After the Crash; Before the War: Culture and Society in Europe in the 1930s

    Speaker: Philipp Blom, author, journalist, lecturer and broadcaster, and author of Fracture: Life and Culture in the West, 1918-1938

    Date: 19 November, 2015

    Details here.
  • Bourgeois Equality: How Ideas, Not Capital, Enriched the World

    Speaker: Deirdre McCloskey, University of Illinois at Chicago

    Date: 16 September 2015

    Details here.
  • How Churchill Learnt to Love the Free Market

    Speaker: Andrew Roberts, historian and author

    Date: 25 June 2015

    Details here.
  • Smart Money: How High-Stakes Financial Innovation is Reshaping our World for the Better

    Speaker: Andrew Palmer, Business Affairs Editor, The Economist

    Date: 14 May 2015

    Details here.
  • The Age of Plunder: How We Traded Africa

    Speaker: Bronwen Everill, Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, Kings College London

    Date: 6 May 2015

    Details here.
  • Capitalism Question Time

    Speakers: Victoria Bateman, Fellow and College Lecturer in Economics, Cambridge University; Huw Bowen, Professor in Modern History, Swansea University; Benedikt Koehler, author and former Government Economic Adviser in Whitehall; Nicholas Crafts, Professor of Economics and Economic History at the University of Warwick

    Date: 23 April 2015

    Details here.
  • How to Be Dutch, the Modern Way

    Speaker: Maarten Prak, Chair of Economic and Social History, University of Utrecht (Netherlands)

    Date: 14 April 2015

    Details here.
  • Global Trade: The Beginnings

    Speaker: David Abulafia, Professor of Mediterranean History, University of Cambridge

    Date: 4 March 2015

    Details here.
  • Rome's Economic Revolution (147-30 BC)

    Speaker: Philip Kay, Head of Asia, City Financial, and author of Rome's Economic Revolution

    Date: 15 January 2015

    Details here.


  • Industrialisation: Why Britain Got There First (1800-1900)

    Speaker: Nicholas Crafts, Professor of Economics and Economic History at the University of Warwick

    Date: 26 November 2014

    Details here.
  • Making Money, Making Empires: The Case of the East India Company (1600-1850) 

    Speaker: Huw Bowen, Professor in Modern History, Swansea University

    Date: 11 September 2014

    Details here.
  • A History of Capitalism: The Changing Axis of Economic Power in the Early Modern Period (1550-1750)

    Speaker: Victoria Bateman, Fellow and College Lecturer in Economics, Cambridge University

    Date: 5 June 2014

    Details here.
  • A Global Transition: From the Mediterranean to the Atlantic (1300-1600) (Lecture Series)

    Speaker: David Abulafia, Professor of Mediterranean History, University of Cambridge

    Date: 15 May 2014

    Details here.
  • Early Islam and the Birth of Capitalism (600-1400)

    Speaker: Benedikt Koehler, author and former Government Economic Adviser in Whitehall

    Date: 20 February 2014

    Details here.