Courtship is defined in the American Heritage Dictionary as the act or period of wooing a woman.
Courtship is a term generally used in the more mature stages of a relationship, possibly leading up to marriage. The end goal is to develop a close, romantic relationship with the person in the hopes of attaining a serious, committed relationship.
Dating is defined as making or having a social engagement with a person you are attracted to.
Dating is considered a less formal, less serious version of courtship, displayed in the beginning stages of a relationship. In dating, even if there is attraction, commitment is not necessarily a requirement between the couple.
The concept of dating began around the turn of the 20th century.
As the issue of women's rights became more dominant, they demanded that certain social restrictions be loosened, such as the right to go out with a man without parental chaperoning or gaining a bad reputation. Before this time, the parents held much more power in who their children courted and eventually married. The alteration of courting to dating also changed the power dynamics between genders in relationships; for instance, rather than the tradition of the man always paying for dinner, women can also insist on paying for the date to keep things equal between them.
The definite line between the definitions of dating and courtship is often convoluted.
Nowadays, the terms can be difficult to define, as sometimes people define dating as synonymous with a committed relationship. Others use the term as two people going out to dinner more than once, or once a week for a few weeks, with the belief that the dates will progress and grow into a full-fledged committed relationship. The term can vary even further in terms of "going out on a date," which could indicate that you are going out with someone for the very first time.