The aim of this paper is twofold. On the one hand, it discusses Douglass North's "new economic history" approach by putting it in a broader methodological and theoretical perspective, elucidating the (large) extent to which North's basic tenets rely upon a methodological perspective based on individualism. It is argued that description of historical-economic processes centered on the individual cannot convincingly explain the ac tual dynamics and evolution of institutions, which is admittedly one of the main desiderata of North's approach. On the other hand, we claim that a more satisfactory perspective has to take account of the co-evolution of individual choices and social institutions by means of a careful description of the simultaneous "bottom-up" and "top-down" processes through which institutions emerge from the (complex) aggregation of individual behaviours while behaviours themselves are modified by the incumbent institutional setting. Finally, we draw a sketch of the conceptual pillars of this alternative approach and discuss its main implications.