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Learn Online about the History of Capitalism: New MOOC from Princeton University

A new online course from Ivy League member Princeton University explores the history and future of capitalism. Learners from 90 countries around the world have already signed up for the course.

Learn Online about the History of Capitalism: New MOOC from Princeton University
Picture: usareiseblogger/pixabay

Many Western societies take it for granted: But will capitalism as a system really be sustainable in the long run?

A new MOOC (massive open online course) from Princeton University on the edX platform explores capitalism´s global development.

The online course has been designed by a young team of doctoral candidates, who met during a graduate seminar at Princeton. It will discuss capitalism within the context of globalization, labor markets, environmental issues and democracy.

We interviewed Caitlin Harvey and her fellow MOOC team about the course – and asked them which online learners can and should join the MOOC.


"In Our Course, We Will Debate Whether Capitalism is Sustainable"

Edukatico: Dear Princeton MOOC team, what is your background and your relation to the topic of capitalism´s history?

Princeton MOOC team: All of our instructors are doctoral candidates in History at Princeton University. 

Although many of us have been interested in the historical dimensions of capitalism for some time, we came together as a group during a graduate seminar led by Professor Jeremy Adelman. 

Professor Adelman initiated and encouraged our efforts to engage with a broader public, and then stepped back to let us design and teach the course ourselves.


Edukatico: In your opinion, what is the key differentiator of capitalism vs. other forms of economic organization?

Princeton MOOC team: We grapple with this question in our course. 

“Capitalism”, for nearly all scholars, has been difficult to define in a positive sense. More often it is defined by what it is not. 

For example, capitalism as an economic system emphasizes accumulation, so it differs appreciably from the subsistence based systems of agrarian dynasties like that of China before 1900. 

In political terms, communism’s state-led economic reforms have been contrasted to capitalism’s decentralized markets, especially during the Cold War. 

To the German historian Jürgen Kocka, the attribute of “commodification” might be added to “accumulation” and “decentralization” as defining features of capitalism, but we look forward to debating this further in the course.


Edukatico: Western societies seem to assume that capitalism will be sustainable in the long run. Is that an appropriate assumption to make?

Princeton MOOC team: Whether capitalism is sustainable – economically, politically, and/or environmentally – is a question we debate in our course

Please join us for the discussion!


Intro to the History of Capitalism Online Course


"There Has Been an Explosion of Interest in the History of Capitalism"

Edukatico: What are the key topics covered in your MOOC about the Global History of Capitalism?

Princeton MOOC team: The key topics covered by our MOOC are the subjects of our six sessions. 

They are:

  • Narratives of Global Capitalism
  • Capitalism and Labor
  • Commodities and Consumption
  • Development
  • The Environment
  • Globalization

Some of the questions that we hope to address are:

- How is capitalism related to globalization

- What are the important institutions of global capitalism?

- How can following the production, supply and demand chains of commodities, rubber, sugar or petroleum help us understand consumption and capitalism?

- What is the role of the state in the development of capitalism, and is there a relationship between capitalism and empire?

- Is global capitalism environmentally sustainable?

- Why did some countries industrialize, while others didn’t? 

- Why do labor markets develop? 

- Is there an inherent tension between capitalism and democracy?


Edukatico: Who can participate in your online course? Why could it be interesting to learn about capitalism´s history?

Princeton MOOC team: Anyone with an internet connection and an interest in capitalism!

Since the global financial crisis of 2008, there has been an explosion of interest in the history of capitalism. But capitalism, the structures it supports, and its impacts have existed long before the beginning of the most recent recession. 

Learners may come to the course with a particular narrative of capitalism in mind - whether it is a positive narrative of market integration, poverty alleviation, and longer life expectancies, or a negative narrative of gross inequality, environmental destruction, and overpowered corporations. 

We think that it will interest learners to understand capitalism in its geographic and historical depth, even if this knowledge erodes neat narratives of capitalism’s place in our world today. 

We offer learners the opportunity to explore capitalism’s development at local, national, regional, and global levels. This opportunity will leave them with a firmer understanding of how capitalism took its present form, and what that form means for the future.


Edukatico: Thank you for this overview and all the best for your MOOC!


The capitalism online course is offered as a MOOC (massive open online course) on the edX platform.

The course is free for learners and approximately 1,000 learners from 90 countries have already pre-enrolled well before its launch. Students are, on average, 32 years old.

Learn Online about the History of Capitalism: New MOOC from Princeton University
Picture: stocksnap/pixabay

The international team of course instructors (and their academic backgrounds) are:

  • Miles Macallister, from Suffolk, United Kingdom (London School of Economics, University of Cambridge)
  • Felice Physioc, from Vienna, Virginia, United States (Columbia University, Sciences Po, London School of Economics)
  • Teal Arcadi, from Ithaca, New York, United States (Cornell University)
  • Rob Konkel, from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada (University of Saskatchewan, University of Oxford)
  • Caitlin Harvey, from Cambridge, Ontario, Canada (University of Western Ontario, University of Oxford)
  • Niharika Yadav, from Mumbai, India (University of Delhi)


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12.01.2018