Political sovereignty and economic development in the age of colonial rule: the economic history of independent Africa
A growing literature on the economic, political and social impacts of colonial rule often struggle with an implicit counterfactual: how would African countries have performed in the absence of colonial rule? Some insight into this question can be found in the experiences of the two countries which remained independent through the colonial period: Liberia and Ethiopia. Unfortunately, these countries have been largely neglected by economic historians. This project seeks to integrate their histories into the broader narratives of African economic history. It has focused thus far on the economic history of Liberia, often referred to as Africa's oldest republic. Current papers document the Liberian government's interactions with the international monetary and financial systems before World War II and provide some preliminary estimates of Liberian economic performance compared with British and French Africa. Overall, this work finds that Liberia's economic history differed from that of its colonised neighbours in the nineteenth and twentieth century. Instead, it had more in common with independent developing countries in Latin America. This research has been supported by the Economic History Society's Carnevali Small Research Grant scheme and has included archival research at the US National Archives, Indiana University Library, the League of Nations archive, Cambridge University Library, Rhodes House in Oxford, the UK National Archives, and the archives of the Bank of England.
‘The rise and fall of sterling in Liberia, 1870-1943’, Economic History Review 67 (2014).
'Colonialism or supersanctions: sovereignty and debt in West Africa, 1871-1914', European Review of Economic History (forthcoming)
'Journey without maps: reconstructing the quantitative economic history of Liberia', in draft.
'Price of independence? foreign investment and economic development in West Africa, 1871-1914', in preparation.
The price of independence in the age of empire: Liberia in comparative perspective, 1822-1957 (in preparation).
Pre-colonial foundations of the colonial state? Indirect rule, economic development and the decompression of history
(with Jutta Bolt, University of Groningen)
This project contributes to a growing literature linking pre-colonial institutions and current development in Africa. Research in this area attributes correlations between pre-colonial institutions and current development to ‘indirect rule’, in which African regimes were integrated into colonial administrations. However, the structure and practice of indirect rule varied widely. Our current work uses a new data set on local government finance in British colonial Africa to establish a more precise connection between indigenous states and colonial institutions. These data are paired with anthropological records on pre-colonial states to analyse the extent to which the fiscal capacity of local government units reflected pre-colonial state centralization or colonial-era economic change. Further, we argue that differences in local government capacity during the colonial period had implications for later economic development through local investments in human capital. These new data provide additional evidence of diversity in development outcomes not only between but also within African countries across the twentieth century.
Papers and work in progress:
'De-compressing history? Pre-colonial institutions and local government finance in British colonial Africa', in draft.
'Fiscal federalism in colonial Africa: developmental reform or decentralized despotism?', in progress.
Taxation and representation: paying for the British Empire, 1780-1960
The fiscal institutions of the British Empire in the twentieth century have come under increasing scrutiny in recent years, as indicators of the aims and capacity of colonial institutions. This research has focused particularly on sub-Saharan Africa, the last and perhaps most ambitious of Britain's colonial undertakings. But what were the origins of the colonial fiscal institutions established in Africa? What lessons were learned from the several centuries of experience in colonial administration which came before it? This project looks farther back in the history of the British Empire to answer these questions, focusing particularly on the influence of the evolving constitutional structure of the British Empire. From the seventeenth century, there were debates about whether ultimate control over local policies should rest with representative bodies in the colonies, or with the British government. Tensions over this issue reached breaking point in the rebellion of the American colonies. The project picks up after the rebellion, and examines how different levels and forms of local representation influenced the structure and performance of fiscal systems during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It also assesses the extent to which the history of colonial rule in other parts of the world helped shape the institutions established in Anglophone Africa. The project will form the basis of a monograph.
Papers and work in progress:
'The Magna Carta in Kenya? Law, the power to tax and the institutional legacies of British colonialism', in progress.
African economic development in comparative perspective
(with Stephen Broadberry, LSE and CAGE)
This project aims to measure African economic performance since the nineteenth century and place it in comparison with other regions of the world. It uses new advances in the measurement of GDP per capita over the long run to assess development potential and production, and guide comparisons with other economies at similar levels of development. Currently, the project focuses on comparing African economies in the post-war period with pre-industrial European countries which had comparable levels of GDP per capita. We argue that GDP per capita allows for reciprocal comparisons which provide insights into the process of economic development at particular levels of income. This means that comparisons with European economies should be made at the appropriate point in history (in contrast to comparisons which have guided recent policy prescriptions). It also allows us to use a rich and growing body of survey data from African economies to answer questions which remain about the dynamic relationship between institutions and development in Europe.
Papers and work in progress:
'Economic development in Africa and Europe: reciprocal comparisons', Revista Historica Economica 34 (2016), with Stephen Broadberry (Oxford).
Money in Africa
(with Max Bolt, University of Birmingham, Catherine Eagleton, British Library, and Karin Pallaver, University of Bologna)
African monetary systems have changed dramatically since the nineteenth century. This joint, multidisciplinary project examines these developments, and their implications for economic and political change. This project integrates approaches from material culture, history, economic history, and anthropology. These different disciplinary approaches each provide a rich context within which to look at the monetary past and present of sub-Saharan Africa. The case studies that form the core of the project focus on Anglophone Africa in three different periods: colonial rule, the transition to independence, and the present day, producing a broad account of the introduction, adoption and adaptation of coin and banknote currencies in Africa during the past 150 years. Combining historical, museological and archival work with anthropological fieldwork gives a rich interdisciplinary character to the project, which provides a lens through which to look at the history, politics, economics, and cultures of colonial and independent Africa.
‘The Rise and Fall of Sterling in Liberia, 1870-1943’, Economic History Review 67 (2014).
'The curious case of the franc in the Gambia: floating exchange rates and the British imperial monetary system in the 1920s', Financial History Review 22 (2015), pp. 291-314.
'Trade and monetization in British West Africa, 1912-1970: evidence from seasonal cycles', in preparation.