Useful and Reliable Knowledge in Global Histories of Material Progress in the East and the West 

Following on from the GEHN project, Professor Patrick O'Brien has been awarded a large grant from the European Research Council to convene and manage Useful and Reliable Knowledge in Global Histories of Material Progress in the East and the West (URKEW).

The project falls into paradigms for historical research in the comparative economic history of long-run global histories of material progress associated with the scholarship of Max Weber and Marc Bloch. It is focused upon institutions, cosmologies and cultures, promoting or restraining the accumulation of useful and reliable knowledge for industrial and agricultural production in the Orient and the Occident in the early-modern period - from the accession of the Ming Dynasty (c.1368) to the First Industrial Revolution (c. 1756-1846).

The working hypothesis behind the proposal is that for the past three centuries, Western exceptionalism in the economic sphere has been in some considerable degree based upon a distinct regime for the generation and diffusion of such knowledge.

The project will consist of a Principal Investigator, Professor Patrick O'Brien and five Research Officers specialising on China, Europe, India, Japan and Islamdom in the pre-industrial period (there are are currently four on the team, with more recruitment to follow.) The five Research Officers will be producing a set of comparable case studies, each of which analyses the nature of institutions, their constitutions, organisation and curricula established for all forms of higher education in different parts of the world as an entrée through historical records into the cosmologies and cultures of elites who patronised and supported or failed to support and patronise innovation and enquiries leading to the accumulation of useful and reliable knowledge behind technological divergence between the east and the west. 

Research Officers

Each Research Officer is mentored by a member of the Economic History Department specialised upon his/her area of research. They will also have access to specialists based elsewhere in the School and the University of London, and international scholars connected with the Global Economic History Network established by Professor O'Brien, and will be supported by external experts, formally associated with the project, who will make periodic visits to the School, and attend workshops and two conferences planned for the project.

Associate department members

In addition to Professor O'Brien, members of the Department most closely associated with the project are:

  • Professor Janet Hunter, Deputy Project Director: Japanese economic and social development; gender and industrialisation; Anglo-Japanese economic relations.
  • Dr. Kent G. Deng: history of pre-modern China (particularly the role of the literati and maritime history) and long-run Chinese economic growth.
  • Dr. Tirthankar Roy: economic history of modern and early-modern South Asia, with particular interests in industrialisation, labour and employment and historiography.
  • Dr Patrick Wallis early-modern economic history; human capital and skill; apprenticeship; history of health and medicine"


More links to Project Outcomes