Introduction to Modern and Contemporary History


The purpose of this course is to give a general perspective on the formation of the contemporary world. In order to do so the course starts by studying the moment of planetary opening known as the Discoveries. Then it studies the main institutional and economic characteristics of Europe?s Ancien Régime and its destruction by the Liberal revolutions of the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. The course proceeds by analyzing the expansion of Liberal ideas in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as well as their crisis in the twentieth century. In order to do so it studies the two world wars and the challenges posed by Communism and Fascism. The course ends by an analysis of the prosperity process that is a main feature of the contemporary Western world, connecting it with globalization.

General characterization





Responsible teacher

Luciano Amaral


Weekly - Available soon

Total - Available soon

Teaching language




Acemoglu, Daron and James A. Robinson, Why Nations Fail. The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, New York, Crown Business, 2012.

Jones E.L., The European Miracle, Environments, Economies and Geopolitics in the History of Europe and Asia, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1981.

Harari, Yuval Noah, Homo Deus, A Brief History of Tomorrow, London, Vintage, 2016.

Keay, John, China, A History, New York, Basic Books, 2009.

Landes, David, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, Why Some are so Rich and Some so Poor, New York, Abacus, 1998.

Maddison, Angus, Monitoring the World Economy, 1820-1992, Paris, OECD, 1995.

Parker R.A.C., The Second World War, A Short History, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1989.

Payne, Stanley G., A History of Fascism, 1914-1945, Madison, The University of Wisconsin Press, 1995.

Pommeranz, Kenneth, The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2000.

Service, Robert, Comrades! A History of World Communism, Cambridge, Ma, Harvard University Press, 2007.

Strachan, Hew, The First World War, A New Illustrated History, London, Pocket Books, 2003.

Teaching method

The methods followed in the course are traditional lectures by the courses teacher, combined with the analysis and discussion of various texts in class, as well as the writing of essays on specific topics.

Evaluation method

The Final Exam is mandatory and must cover the entire span of the course. Its weight in the final grade can be between 30 to 70%. The remainder of the evaluation can consist of class participation, midterm exams, in class tests, etc. Overall, written in class assessment (final exam, midterm) must have a weight of at least 50%.

Regular Exam Period
Continuous assessment elements (and their weights):
-    One individual mini-test in the middle of the semester (20%)
-    Two group participations in class on the topic of the day’s lecture (10% overall)
Final exam (and their weighting):
-    A final exam on all the content of the course (70%)

Resit Exam Period
Continuous assessment (and their weights) if different than 100%: Final exam (and its weight):

Grade Improvement in Regular Period
Continuous assessment (and their weights) if the scanning feature doesn’t count 100%: Final exam (and its weight):
Grade Improvement in Resit Period
Continuous assessment (and their weights) if different than 100%:

Final exam (and their weighting):

    Subject matter

    Course unit content

    • 1. Western pre-eminence:

      Signs of pre-eminence of Western countries in the world today: economic, political, cultural.

    • 2. The Great Divergence:

      The origins of Western pre-eminence: the Great Divergence in economic growth, leading to a much richer West in relation to the rest.

    • 3. The main Asian examples: China and Japan:

      Two diverging paths in Asia: China and Japan – a brief historical outline.

    • 4. A first critical juncture in Europe: the Black Death (1348):

      The plague of the Black Death as a critical moment for creation of a more equal society in Europe.

    • 5. The revolutions in England, the United States of America and France and the creation of the first modern inclusive institutions (1688-1789):

      How the English Revolution (1688), the American Revolution (1776) and the French Revolution (1789) shaped today’s institutions.

    • 6. Paths to backwardness (1415-1820s):

      How the Iberian countries missed their opportunity despite being the pioneers of European expansion.

    • 7. The first age of globalisation (1850-1914):

      The globalisation of the second half of the nineteenth century: unprecedented integration of the world economy, unprecedented prosperity, unprecedented spreading of inclusive institutions.

    • 8. Inclusiveness interrupted (1914-1945):

      World War I (1914-1918), and communist and fascist regimes as moments of interruption of inclusiveness in the world.

    • 9. Partial return to inclusiveness (1945-1991):

      After World War II fascism was generally defeated, but not communism: the return to inclusiveness was only partial.

    • 10. The effects of European imperialism around the world (1415-today):

      The impact of the European empires in the world: before and after independence of non-European countries.

    • 11. Asia’s rebirth (1991-today):

      Changes in China heralding a period of rebirth for the country and Asia as a whole.

    • 12. The end of Western pre-eminence? Economic facts (1991-today):

      The end of communism in 1991 inserted a vast part of the world in a second age of globalisation: now some of the newcomer countries are threatening Western pre- eminence.

    • 13. The end of Western pre-eminence? Political facts:

      Are the institutions of Western countries becoming less inclusive under the threat of globalisation? Discussion.

    • 14. History of tomorrow:

      The challenges in a world of unparalleled wealth and development. Today’s main projects’ for mankind.


    Programs where the course is taught: