Economic and social history

Perunanmyyntiä kalstajien veneistä Kolera-altaassa / Volker von Bonin, Helsingin kaupunginmuseo

Why are some nations rich while others are poor? What are the forces that drive long-term economic and social development? What sparks crises? Why have we not been able to eradicate poverty, hunger and inequality? What has been the significance of tribe, class, gender and family?

Economic and social history is a historical social science discipline that explores economic and social phenomena over time. It offers tools based on historical and social scientific research to better understand the past and the contemporary world.

The discipline of economic and social history focuses on major social phenomena and everyday life. Other topics include the formation of living conditions and lifestyles as part of changing social structures as well as how economic development and crises have produced not only welfare, but also inequality. Economic and social history is also interested in how people have attempted to resolve socio-economic problems at different times. The discipline analyses current social issues from a historical perspective.

The discipline of economic and social history is rich and diverse, and the research topics range from the local to the global. Multidisciplinary themes are also typical.

Current research focuses on the following:

  • Long-term economic development
  • Differences in income and wealth
  • Welfare
  • Consumption and everyday life
  • Life course, generations and minorities

For more information about researchers in economic and social history as well as their research, see the University of Helsinki research portal. You can also search for people through the search page for contact information.

Discipline coordinator: Professor Jari Eloranta


The discipline of economic and social history has several ongoing research projects. 

  • Beyond virtuous circles: A new economic history of human development in Finland, 19th-20th c. (Sakari Saaritsa)
  • A comparative analysis of the ready-to-wear industry networks in 20th century Helsinki and Gothenburg (Laura Ekholm).
  • A Conceptual History of Commoditized and Measurable Knowledge: Endogeneity of Knowledge and Productivity in French, German and English Nineteenth Century Economic Literature (Olli Turunen). The objective of the project is to focus on the nineteenth century literature through a lens of knowledge and its place in economic theories. The main goal is to understand how the history of economic thought plays out when the decisive criteria of relevance are the concept of knowledge and the causal logic related to its purposeful creation, transfer, and economic impact.
  • Confederate Soldiers in the US Civil War: Social Capital, Desertions, and Battlefield Impacts. (Jari Eloranta, joint project with Judkin Browning, Appalachian State University) and it's currently in the process of compiling a unique database on North Carolina Confederate soldiers
  • Extension of Finnish Historical National Accounts to the 16th Century (Jari Eloranta, project leader Jari Ojala, University of Jyväskylä). The goal is to extend the Finnish national accounts from 1860 to the 16th century, similar to what has already been done e.g. in Sweden. This is a large collaborative project, and Eloranta's role is to focus on a) the public sector contributions and b) indirect estimation methods.
  • History of Innovation Policy and Thought in Finland (Olli Turunen). The goal of the project is to provide a historian's view to recent (1970s to 2010s) innovation thinking and policy in Finland. Focus is on a) what type of ideas, theories, and concepts were drawn from international economics and management literature or emerged in Finland during the period; b) in what ways these were put to practice or were used to back up policies by government agencies, universities, and research institutions; and c) how successful these approaches were.
  • Long-run Societal and Fiscal Changes in Finland and in the Nordic Countries (Jari Eloranta)
  • Military Spending Since Napoleon (Jari Eloranta). Project is in the planning stages but aims to produce a monograph on global military spending patterns and explanations from 1815 to the 21st century.
  • Politics of natalism, experts of sexuality and human experiences in post-war Finland (Hanna Kuusi)
  • Productivity of Shipping and Impact of Imperial Expansion from the 18th to the 21st  (Jari Eloranta, joint project with various domestic and foreign scholars). The project is attempting to construct measures of TFP and shipping productivity in the long run, to challenge the existing narratives that suggest the first era of globalization began in 1820. The project also focuses on analyzing the crowding out effects of British empire and military spending.
  • Small and Medium Powers in Global Conflicts and Trade (Jari Eloranta). This project starts with the hypothesis that smaller states (and medium-sized weaker states) often gain opportunities to engage in broader trade during protracted conflict periods, especially if they claim neutrality status. This can be seen especially during the truly global conflicts, like the world wars, Napoleonic wars, and the Cold War
  • Supply and Demand for Nordic Sailors, 1750-1950. (Jari Eloranta, joint project with Jari Ojala and Jaakko Pehkonen University of Jyvaskyla).
  • Ten Generations - Three Centuries. A Finnish History as Family Stories (Antti Häkkinen)
  • Work, Inequality and Public Policy, WIP (SRC consortium, Sakari Saaritsa)

More research projects involving the discipline are listed in the research portal.

Economic and social history can be studied in the Bachelor’s and Master’s Programmes in Society and Change. For the first two years, students pursue studies each of the four disciplines: political history; development studies; social and cultural anthropology; and economic and social history. During the third year, students choose their discipline-specific study tracks. The Master’s Programme in Society and Change focuses on discipline-specific studies. These degree programmes continue the long-standing cooperation in social science history between the disciplines of economic and social history and political history; within the framework of social science history.

Degree programmes in which Economic and Social History can be studied

Postal and street address for the discipline of economic and social history

PO Box 54 (Snellmaninkatu 14 A)
00014 University of Helsinki

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