Monday, 9 July 2012

Historical perspectives from Stellenbosch

It has gone quiet on this blog since the end of my research leave in June, but this week I am at the World Economic History Congress and I am finding lots of inspiration for blogs.

The theme of this year's congress is The roots of development and the first session featured James Robinson (of Why nations fail-fame) on the impact of colonialism on development in Sub-Saharan Africa. Colonialism had heterogeneous effects depending on interactions with the density of indigeneous peoples, the disease environment etc. He played up the insitutions angle looking at three types of colonies: those that had some kind of polity before the scramble for Africa, those that received large numbers of white settlers and the others, and imaged what things would have looked like if there were no colonialisation. It is a longer story, but with trade, aid and the cold war kept constant he concluded that colonialisation did not benefit development in Africa (he had a whole example of the problems of indirect rule in Sierra Leone).

The presentation did not mention the new Easterly and Levine paper on the European origins of economic development, discussed here by Johan Fourie. I also wonder about those colonies that had some kind of polity and are a key part of the counterfactual - Lesotho, Swaziland, Rwanda are all small and relatively homogeneous. What role for geography in this story?

The afternoon also had some interesting papers and I attended the session on the Maddison project where issues of measurement and data collection were discussed. It is clear that economic historians have key contributions to make to current debates about, growth, development and inequality.

Stay tuned for more, I am here for the whole week.


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