Colonialism, institutional quality and the resource curse

by Jubril Animashaun (University of Manchester)

This blog is part of a series of New Researcher blogs.

Why are so many oil-rich countries characterised by slow economic growth and corruption? Are they cursed by the resource endowment per se or is it the mismanagement of oil wealth? We used to think that it is mostly the latter. These days, however, we know that it is far more complicated than that: institutional reform is challenging because institutions are multifaceted and path-dependent.

A primary objective of European colonialism was to expand the economic base of the home country through the imposition of institutions that favoured rent-seeking in the colony. If inherited, such structures can constitute a significant reason for the resource curse and why post-colonial institutional reform is hard. Following this argument, post-colonial groups that benefitted from the institutional system may be able to reproduce this system after independence.

Our study finds support for this argument in oil-rich countries. This suggests the enduring impact of the sixteenth to nineteenth century European colonial practices as an obstacle to institutional reforms in oil-rich countries today.

We come to this conclusion by investigating the changes in economic development over the period 1960-2015 in 69 countries. Our results show that the variation in economic development over these 45 years can be explained to a large extent by institutional quality and oil abundance and their interaction. Our findings are unchanged after controlling for countries that became independent after 1960 (many former Portuguese colonies are in this category).

In our study, we define colonial experience if an oil-rich country had European colonial settlement (for example, settler mortality records) and/or if any of the colonial European languages (English, French, Spanish, etc.) persist as official post-independence language. Persistence of the colonial language helps to distinguish colonies based on the depth of colonial economic engagement.

We further capture colonialism with a dummy variable to reduce the measurement error with estimates of both settler mortality and language. Institutions are measured as the unweighted averages of executive constraints, expropriation risk and government effectiveness (institutional quality index).

Figure 1: Log of settler mortality on institutional quality in oil and gas-rich countries that were former European colonies

It is important in our kind of research to distinguish the impact of colonial legacy from the pre-colonial conditions in the colonised states to validate our result. This is because places with sophisticated technologies could have resisted colonial occupation, and such historical technologies may also have a persistent long-term effect. As our sample comprises countries with giant oil discoveries, and because oil discoveries did not drive the sixteenth to nineteenth century European colonialism, our findings rule out other backdoor effects of colonial and pre-colonial impact on current performance.

Figure 2: Log illiteracy and experience of colonialism in oil-rich countries with control for log GDP and population

We find a significant gap in illiteracy levels between colonised and non-colonised countries. We also find that countries with colonial heritage have less trust. We suggest that to reverse the resource curse, higher priorities should be placed on investment in human capital and education. These will boost citizens’ ability to demand accountability and good governance from elected officials and improve the quality of discourse on civic engagement on institutional reforms.

Figure 3: Social trust index and the experience of colonialism

Growth Before Birth: The Relationship between Placental Weights and Infant and Maternal Health in early-twentieth century Barcelona

By Gregori Galofré-Vilà (Universitat Pompeu Fabra and Barcelona Graduate School of Economics) and Bernard Harris (University of Strathclyde)

R. Alcaraz, Maternitat, Ayuda al desvalido. Available at Wikicommons.

It is now widely accepted that early-life conditions have a significant effect on lifelong health (see e.g. Wells 2016).  Many researchers have sought to examine intrauterine health by studying birth weights, but the evidence of historical changes is mixed.  Although some researchers have argued that birth weights have increased over time (e.g. O’Brien et al. 2020), others have found little evidence of any significant change over the course of the last century (Roberts and Wood 2014).  These findings have led Schneider (2017: 25) to conclude either that, ‘fetal health has remained stagnant’ or that ‘the indicators used to measure fetal health … are not as helpful as research might hope’.

The absence of unequivocal evidence of changes in birth weight has encouraged researchers to pay more attention to other intrauterine health indicators, including the size and shape of the placenta and the ratio of placental weight to birth weight (e.g. Burton et al. 2010).  The placenta transfers oxygen and nutrients from the mother to foetus and provides the means of removing waste products.  Although the evidence regarding changes in placental weight is also mixed, it has been described as a ‘mirror’ reflecting the foetus’ intrauterine status (Kaur 2016: 185).

Historical studies of changes in placental weights are still very rare.  However, we have collected data on almost 4000 placentas which were weighed and measured at Barcelona’s Provincial House (La Casa Provincial de Maternitat i Expósits) between 1905 and 1920.  Our new paper (Galofré-Vilà and Harris, in press) examines the impact of short-term fluctuations in economic conditions on placental weights immediately before and during the First World War, together with the relationship between placental weights and other maternal and neonatal health indicators and long-term changes in placental weight over the course of the century.

Our first aim was to compare changes in birth weight with changes in placental weight.  As we can see from Figure 1, there was little change in average birth weights, but placental weights fluctuated more markedly.  In our paper, we show how these fluctuations may have been related to changes in real wage rates over the same period.

Figure 1. The development of birthweight and placental weight, 1905-1920. Source: as per article. Note: The dark blue line shows the monthly data and the red lines show the yearly averages with their associated 95 percent confidence intervals.

These findings support claims that the placenta is able to ‘adapt’ to changing economic circumstances, but our evidence also shows that such ‘adaptations’ may not be able to counteract the impact of maternal undernutrition entirely.  As Figure 2 demonstrates, although most neonatal markers show a reverse J-shaped curve (a higher risk of perinatal mortality with premature or small-for-gestational-age births), the relationship between placental weight and early-life mortality is U-shaped.

We also control for maternal characteristics using a Cox proportional hazards model.  Even if increases in placental weight can be regarded as a form of ‘adaptive response’, they are not cost-free, as both very low and very high placental weights are associated with increased risks of early-life mortality.  These findings are consistent with David Barker’s conclusion that elevated placental weight ratios lead to adverse outcomes in later life (Barker et al. 2010).

Figure 2. Early-life Mortality, Birthweight, Birth Length, Placental weight and BW:PW ratio. Source: as per article.

We have also compared the average value of placental weights in the Provincial House with modern Spanish data.  These data suggest that average placental weights have declined over the course of the last century.  However, the data from other countries are more mixed.  Placental weight also seems to have declined in Finland and Switzerland, but this is less obvious in other countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States.

Overall, whilst placental weights may well provide a sensitive guide to the intrauterine environment, we still know relatively little about the ways in which they may, or may not, have changed over time.  However, this picture may change if more historical series come to light.

To contact the authors: 

Gregori Galofré-Vilà,, Twitter: @gregorigalofre

Bernard Harris,


Barker, D. J. P., Thornburg, K. L., Osmond, C., Kajantie, E., and Eriksson, J. G. (2010), ‘The Surface Area of the Placenta and Hypertension in the Offspring in Later Life’, International Journal of Developmental Biology, 54, 525-530.

Burton, G., Jauniaux, E. and and Charnock-Jones, D.S. (2010), ‘The influence of the intrauterine environment on human placental development’, International Journal of Developmental Biology, 54, 303-11.

Galofré-Vilà, G. and Harris, B. (in press), ‘Growth Before birth: the relationship between placental weights and infant and maternal health in early-twentieth century Barcelona’, Economic History Review.

Kaur, D. (2016), ‘Assessment of placental weight, newborn birth weight in normal pregnant women and anaemic pregnant women: a correlation and comparative study’, International Journal of Health Sciences and Research, 6, 180-7.

O’Brien, O., Higgins, M. and Mooney, E. (2020), ‘Placental weights from normal deliveries in Ireland’, Irish Journal of Medical Science, 189, 581-3.

Roberts, E., and Wood, P. (2014), ‘Birth weight and adult health in historical perspective: Evidence from a New Zealand Cohort, 1907-1922’, Social Science and Medicine, 107, 154-161.

Schneider, E. (2017), ‘Fetal health stagnation: have health conditions in utero improved in the US and Western and Northern Europe over the past 150 years?’, Social Science and Medicine, 179, 18-26.

Wells, J.C.K. (2016), The metabolic ghetto: evolutionary perspectives on nutrition, power relations and chronic disease, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Overcoming the Egyptian cotton crisis in the interwar period: the role of irrigation, drainage, new seeds, and access to credit

By Ulas Karakoc (Tobb Etü and Humboldt University) and Laura Panza (University of Melbourne)

The full paper from this blog post was published on The Economic History Review and is currently available on Early View at this link

By 1914, the Egyptian economy confronted a unique conundrum: its large agricultural sector was negatively hit by declining yields in cotton production, the main driver of the economy. Egypt was a textbook case of export-led development, because  cotton production and exports had dominated the country’s economy.  The decline in cotton yields, which came to be regarded as a “cotton crisis”, was coupled with two other constraints: land scarcity and high population density. Nonetheless, despite unfavourable price shocks, Egyptian agriculture was able to overcome this crisis in the interwar period.  The output stagnation between  1900 and the 1920s contrasts with the following recovery (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Egyptian raw cotton output, acreage under raw cotton and raw cotton yield, c.1890s-1940. Source: Annuaire Statistique (various issues)

Previous research documented that during the crisis the decline in yields was caused by expanded irrigation without sufficient drainage, which led to a higher water table and made cotton more prone to pest attacks (Radwan, 1974; Owen, 1968; Richards, 1982).  This problem was addressed when the government  introduced an extensive public works programme directed to drainage and irrigation.   Simultaneously, Egypt’s farmers changed their cotton cultivation from the long staple and low- yielding Sakellaridis to the medium-short staple and high yielding Achmouni.  This change reflected income maximizing preferences (Goldberg 2004 and 2006). Another important feature of the Egyptian economy between the 1920s and 1940s was the expansion of credit facilities to farmers. Cooperatives, and the Crèdit Agricole (1931) were established  to facilitate small landowners’ access to inputs and  small loans (Issawi, 1954, Eshag and Kamal, 1967). These credit institutions coexisted with a number of mortgage banks, among which the Credit Foncièr was the largest, servicing predominantly large owners. Figure 2 illustrates the average annual real value of Credit Foncièr land mortgages in 1,000 Egyptian pounds (1926-1939).

Figure 2.  Average annual real value of Credit Foncièr land mortgages in 1,000 Egyptian pounds (1926-1939). Source: Annuaire Statistique (various issues)

Our work investigates the extent to which these factors contributed to the recovery of the cotton sector. Specifically: to what extent can intra-cotton shifts explain changes in total output? How did the increase in public works boost production? And, what role did differential access to credit play? To answer these questions, we construct a new dataset by exploiting official statistics (Annuaire Statistique de l’Egypte) covering 11 provinces and 17 years between 1923 and 1939.

We find  that access to both finance and improved seeds significantly increased cotton output,  and the declining price premium of Sakellaridis led to a large scale switch to Achmouni.  By putting farmers’ choices and agency centre stage in our analysis, our study shows that cultivators’ response to market changes was fundamental to the recovery of the cotton sector. Access to credit was also a strong determinant of cotton output, and productivity-enhancing innovations in agriculture (Glaeser, 2010).

Surprisingly, perhaps,  our results show that the expansion of irrigation and drainage did not have a direct effect on output (in the same or following year). However, we cannot completely rule out the role played by improved irrigation infrastructure for two reasons: first, we do not observe investments in private drains, and thus we cannot empirically assess the potential complementarities between private and public drainage. Second, we find some evidence pointing to the cumulative effect of drainage pipes, two and three years after installation.

We also find that the structure of land ownership, specifically the presence of large landowners, contributed to output recovery. Thus, despite the attempted institutional innovations aimed at giving small farmers better access to credit, large landowners benefitted disproportionally from credit availability. This observation accords  with Egypt’s extreme inequality of land holdings.

To contact the authors:

Ulas Karakoc,

Laura Panza,


Eshag, E., and Kamal, M.A.,  “A Note on the Reform of the Rural Credit System in U.A.R (Egypt).” Bulletin of the Oxford University Institute of Economics & Statistics 29, no. 2 (1967): 95–107.

Glaeser, B. The Green Revolution Revisited: Critique and Alternatives. Taylor & Francis, 2010.

Goldberg, E. “Historiography of Crisis in the Egyptian Political Economy.” In Middle Eastern Historiographies: Narrating the Twentieth Century, edited by I. Gershoni, Amy Singer, and Hakan Erdem, 183–207. University of Washington Press, 2006.

———. Trade, Reputation and Child Labour in the Twentieth-Century Egypt. Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

Issawi, C. Egypt at Mid-Century. Oxford University Press, 1954.

Owen, R. “Agricultural Production in Historical Perspective: A Case Study of the Period 1890-1939.” In Egypt Since the Revolution, edited by P. Vatikiotis, 40–65, 1968.

Radwan, S. Capital Formation in Egyptian Industry and Agriculture, 1882-1967. Ithaca Press, 1974.

Richards, A. Egypt’s Agricultural Development, 1800-1980: Technical and Social Change. Westview Press, 1982.

COVID-19 and the food supply chain: Impacts on stock price returns and financial performance

This blog is  part of the Economic History Society’s blog series: ‘The Long View on Epidemics, Disease and Public Health: Research from Economic History’.

By Julia Höhler (Wageningen University)

As growing evidence about COVID-19 and its effects on the human body and transmission mechanisms emerges, economists are now making progress in understanding the impact of the global pandemic on the food supply chain. While it is apparent that many companies were affected, the nature and magnitude of the effects continue to require investigation.  A special issue of the Canadian Journal of Agricultural Economics on ‘COVID-19 and the Canadian agriculture and food sectors’, was among the first publications to examine the  possible effects of COVID-19 on food-supply.  In our ongoing work we take the next step and ask the question: How can we quantify the effects of COVID-19 on companies in the food supply chain?

Figure 1. Stylized image of supermarket shopping Source: Oleg Magni, Pexels

Stock prices as a proxy for the impact of COVID-19

One way to quantify the initial effects of COVID-19 on companies in the food supply chain is to analyse stock prices and their reaction over time. The theory of efficient markets states that stock prices reflect investors’ expectations regarding future dividends. If stock prices fluctuate strongly, this is a sign of lower expected returns and higher risks. Volatile stock markets can increase businesses’ financing costs and, in the worst case, threaten their liquidity. At the macroeconomic level, stock prices can also be useful to indicate the likelihood of a future recession. For our analysis of stock price reactions, we have combined data from different countries and regions. In total, stock prices for 71 large stock-listed companies from the US, Japan and European were collected. The companies’ activities in our sample cover the entire supply chain from farm equipment and supplies, agriculture, trade, food-processing, distribution, and retailing.

Impact on stock price returns comparable to the 2008 financial crisis

 We began by  calculating the logarithmic daily returns for the companies’ stocks and their average. Second, we compared these average returns with the performance of the S&P 500.  Figure 2, below,  shows the development of average daily returns from 2005 to 2020. Companies in the S&P 500 (top) achieved higher returns on average, but also exhibited higher fluctuations than the average of the companies we examined (bottom). Stock price returns fluctuated particularly strongly during the 2008 financial crisis. The fluctuations since the first notification of COVID-19 to the WHO in early January to the end of April 2020 (red area) are comparable in their magnitude. The negative fluctuations in this period are somewhat larger than in 2008. Based on the comparison of both charts, it can be assumed that stock price returns of large companies in the food supply chain were on average less affected by the two crises. Nevertheless, a look at the long-term consequences of the 2008 financial crisis suggests that a wave of bankruptcies, lower financial performance and a loss of food security may still follow.

Figure 2. Average daily returns, for the S & P 500 (top panel) and 71 food-supply companies (FSC), lower panel, 2005-2020. Source: Data derived from multiple sources. For further information, please contact the author.

Winners and losers in the sub-sectors

In order to obtain a more granular picture of the impact of COVID-19, the companies in our sample  were divided into sub-sectors, and their stock price volatility was calculated between January and April, 2020. Whereas food retailers and breweries experienced relatively low volatility in stock prices, food distributors and manufacturers of fertilizers and chemicals experienced relatively higher volatilities. In order to cross-validate these results, we collected information on realized profits or losses from the companies’ financial reports. The trends observed in  stock prices are also reflected in company results for the first quarter of 2020. Food retailers were able to increase their profits in times of crisis, while food distributors recorded high losses compared to the previous period. The results are likely related to the lockdowns and social distancing measures which altered food distribution channels.

Longer-term effects

Just as the vaccine for COVID-19 is still in the pipeline, research into the effects of COVID-19 needs time to show what makes companies resilient to the effects of unpredictable shocks of this magnitude. Possible research topics relate to the question of whether local value chains are better suited to cushion the effects of a pandemic and maintain food security. Further work is also needed to understand fully the associated trade-offs between food security, profitability, and climate change objectives. Another research question relates to the effects of government protective measures and company support programmes.  Cross-country studies can provide important insights here. Our project lays the groundwork for future research into the effects of shocks on companies in the food value chain. By combining different data sources, we were able to compare stock returns in times of COVID-19 with those of the 2008 crisis, and  identify differences between sub-sectors. In the next step we will use company characteristics such as profitability to explain differences in returns.

To contact the author: julia.hoehler[at]

The Diaspora of a Diaspora: The Cassana and Rivarolo family network in the Atlantic, 1450-1530

By Andres Mesa (Università degli Studi di Teramo)

This research is due to be presented in the sixth New Researcher Online Session: ‘Spending & Networks’.

The Coast of Genoa, by Jasper Francis Cropsey, 1854. Available at Wikimedia Commons.

My project re-assesses the nature of Genoese family networks in the Atlantic, at the end of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. The canonical understanding of these networks is based on three observations: family networks were highly co-dependent, centralized, and that Genoa was the centre of operations for all the Genoese. My research shows a multitude of scenarios and provides new explanations for these observations. Using a case study of the Rivarolo-Cassana family network, I show that this particular network functioned more in terms of cooperation, using a pluricentric language. As the title suggests, the economic endeavours of these merchants involved  a complex migration process. Consequently, their trading activities coincided with the interests of those in permanent settlements.

Genoese merchants chose cities in the Iberian peninsula for their homes and as a base for their  business activities. For example, Lisbon, Seville, and Valencia had a significant permanent Genoese population who were in the process of becoming naturalized Spanish and Portuguese citizens. In turn, some of the families that dominated the economic landscape of the 15th and 16th centuries disappeared in Genoa. Yet, their descendants still appear in Portugal and Spain with their original Ligurian surnames altered into Castilian or Portuguese.

The findings from my study indicate the need for a major reassessment of our understanding of Genoese family networks. The data I have collected shows that most of the day-to-day trade happened outside the family network, and the contractual relationships that emerged between partners  extended well beyond familial ties. Because the structure of private property ownership was connected to new interests and new markets, it was inevitable that these, in turn, were linked to the discovery of new lands. Consequently, The Genoese adopted a new business model based on owning the means of production for the goods they traded, particularly soap, wheat, and sugar.

Finally, I argue that the economic ties between families and family members, did not always translate into a share of business responsibility or welfare. The relationships and partnerships functioned in terms of very particular historical and geographical contexts. The contracts were between ‘individuals (Societas) to share losses and gains.’ Thus, liability was an individual matter despite the frequent use of jurists.

Andrés Mesa

Twitter: @mesaandres

The Paradox of Redistribution in time: Social spending in 54 countries, 1967-2018

By Xabier García Fuente (Universitat de Barcelona)

This research is due to be presented in the sixth New Researcher Online Session: ‘Spending & Networks’.

Money of various currencies. Available at Wikimedia Commons.

Why are some countries more redistributive than others? This question is central to current welfare state politics, especially in view of rising levels of inequality and the ensuing social tensions. Since coming to power in 2019, Brazil’s far-right government has restricted access to Bolsa Familia—a conditional cash-transfer program—despite its success at reducing poverty with a very low cost (less than 0.5% of national GDP). In richer countries, the social-democratic project is said to be obsolete, as left-wing parties forsake egalitarian policies to cater to economic winners (Piketty, 2020).

How can we make sense of this sort of distributive conflict? Are there common patterns in rich and middle-income countries? My research suggests that welfare state institutions show great inertia, so we need to observe the origins of social policies to explain current redistributive outcomes. Initial policy positions —how pro-poor or pro-rich social transfers were— determine what groups emerge as net winners or net losers when social expenditure increases, which crucially affects the viability and direction of policy change.

Korpi and Palme (1998) famously suggested the existence of a Paradox of Redistribution: ‘the more we target benefits at the poor … the less likely we are to reduce poverty and inequality’. In their framework, progressive programs may be more redistributive per euro spent, but they generate zero-sum conflicts between the poor and the middle-class and obstruct the formation of redistributive political coalitions. In contrast, universal programs align the preferences of the poor and the middle-class and lead to bigger, more egalitarian welfare states. In sum, redistribution increases as transfers become bigger and less pro-poor.

Using survey micro-data provided by the Luxembourg Income Study (LIS), my research updates Korpi and Palme’s (1998) study and addresses two gaps. First, I extend the sample to 54 rich and middle-income countries, including elitist welfare states in Latin America and other middle-income countries. As Figure 1 shows, extending the sample would clearly refute the Paradox: redistribution is higher in more pro-poor countries.

Second, in line with the dynamic political arguments suggested in the Paradox, I explore the evolution of social transfers and redistribution within countries over time. Overall, countries have increased redistribution by making their transfers less pro-poor, which matches the predictions of the Paradox (see Figure 2). The relationship is especially strong in Ireland, Canada, United Kingdom and Norway. Parting from highly progressive (pro-poor) policy positions, these countries have improved redistribution increasing expenditure and reducing their bias towards the poor.

Latin American countries are a notorious exception to this pattern. They are markedly pro-rich and, contrary to the cases above, they have improved redistribution very modestly by becoming more pro-poor (see Figure 3).

What does it mean that redistribution increases as transfers become more or less pro-poor? United Kingdom and Mexico provide a good example (see Figure 4). In the United Kingdom, redistribution through social transfers increased from 7 Gini points in 1974 to 19 Gini points in 2016. In the same period, the share of total social transfers received by the poorest 20% of the population decreased from 35% to 18%. In Mexico, the share of total social transfers obtained by the poorest 20% went from 2% in 1984 to 10% in 2016, while the share obtained by the richest 20% decreased from 66% to 51%. Yet, despite these advances, redistribution through social transfers in Mexico remains very low (2.5 Gini points in 2016, from 0.1 Gini points in 1984).


In countries with pro-poor social transfers, extending coverage involves reaching up the income ladder to include richer constituencies, which narrows the gap between net winners and net losers. This reduces the salience of distributive conflicts and eases welfare state expansion, leading to higher redistribution. However, as transfers become more pro-rich the margin to leverage the progressivity-size trade-off narrows, which helps explain the inability of current welfare states to increase redistribution as inequality rises.

In countries with pro-rich social transfers, extending coverage involves reaching down the income ladder to include the poor. Launching programs for the poor requires rising taxes or cutting the benefits of privileged insiders, which creates a clearly delineated gap between net winners and net losers. This increases the salience of distributive conflicts, leading to smaller, less egalitarian welfare states.

In sum, social policy design is very persistent because it crucially shapes distributive conflicts. Advanced welfare states have increased redistribution by getting bigger and less progressive (less pro-poor). This fits with historical evidence that advanced welfare states grew from minimalist cores, but it also describes contemporary policy change. Following this same reasoning, elitist welfare states in developing regions will find it difficult to become more egalitarian. Figure 5 shows the persistency of distributive outcomes across welfare regimes.


Korpi, W. and Palme, J. (1998). The paradox of redistribution and strategies of equality: Welfare state institutions, inequality, and poverty in the western countries. American Sociological Review, 63(5):661–687.

Piketty, T. (2020). Capital and Ideology. Harvard University Press.

Xabier García Fuente

Twitter: @xabigarf

Settler capitalism: company colonisation and the rage for speculation (NR Online Session 5)

By Matthew Birchall (Cambridge University)

This research is due to be presented in the fifth New Researcher Online Session: ‘Government & Colonization’.


Scan from “Historical Atlas” by William R. Shepherd, New York, Henry Holt and Company, 1923. Available at Wikimedia Commons.

My research explores the little-known story of how company colonisation propelled the settler revolution. Characterised by mass emigration to Britain’s settler colonies during the long nineteenth century, the settler revolution transformed Chicago and Melbourne, London and New York, drawing all into a vast cultural and political network that straddled the globe. But while the settler revolution is now well integrated into recent histories of the British Empire, it remains curiously disconnected from the history of global capitalism.

Prising open what I call the inner lives of colonial corporations, I tell the story of how and why companies remade the settler world. It takes a fresh look at the colonial history of Australia and New Zealand in an attempt to map a new history of chartered colonial enterprise, one that is as sensitive to rhetoric as it is to ledgers documenting profit and loss. We tend to understand companies in terms of their institutional make-up, that is to say their legal and economic structure, but we sometimes forget that they are also cultural constructions with very human histories.

The story that I narrate takes us from the boardrooms of the City of London back out to the pastures of the colonial frontier: it is a snapshot of settler capitalism from the inside out. From the alleys and byways immortalised in Walter Bagehot’s Lombard Street (1873) to the sheep-runs of New South Wales and the South Canterbury plains, company colonisation has a global history – a history that links the Atlantic and the antipodes, Māori and metropolitan capital, country and the City of London. My study marks a first attempt at bringing this history to light.

In digging deep into the social and cultural history of company colonisation, I focus in particular on the legitimating narratives that underwrote visions of colonial reform. How did these company men make sense of their own ventures? What traditions of thought did they draw on to justify the appropriation of indigenous lands? How did the customs and norms of the City shape the boundaries of what was deemed possible, let alone appropriate in the extra-European world? I aim to show that company colonisation was as much an act of the imagination as it was the product of prudent capital investment.

My research engages with large questions of contemporary relevance: the role of corporations in the making of the modern world; the relationship between empire and global capitalism; and the salience of social and cultural factors in the development of corporate enterprise. I hope to enrich these debates by injecting the discussion with greater historical context.



Coordinating Decline: Governmental Regulation of Disappearing Horse Markets in Britain, 1873-1957 (NR Online Session 5)

By Luise Elsaesser (European University Institute)

This research is due to be presented in the fifth New Researcher Online Session: ‘Government & Colonization’.


Milkman and horse-drawn cart – Alfred Denny, Victoria Dairy, Kew Gardens, Est 1900. Available at Wikimedia Commons.

The enormous horse drawn society of 1900 was new. An unprecedented amount of goods and people could only be moved by trains and ships between terminal points and therefore, horses were required by anybody and for everything to reach its final destination. But, the moment the need for horsepower peaked, new technologies had already started to make the working horse redundant for everyday economic life. The disappearance of the horse was a rapid process in the urban areas, whereas the horse remained an economic necessity much longer in other areas of use such as agriculture. The horses decline left behind deep traces causing fundamental changes in soundscapes, landscapes, and smells of human environment and economic life.


Against prevailing narratives of a laissez-faire approach, the British government monitored and shaped this major shift in the use of energy source actively. The exploration of the political economy of a disappearing commercial good examines the regulatory practices and ways the British government interacted with producers and consumers of markets. This demonstrates that governmental regulations are inseparable from modern British economy and that government intervention follows the careful assessment of costs and benefits as well as self-interest over the long time period.

Public pressure groups such as the RSPCA as well as social and business elites were often strongly connected to government circles embracing the opportunity to influence policy outcomes. For instance, the Royal Commission on Horse Breeding was formed in December 1887 is telling because it shows where policy making power that passed through Westminster originated. The commissionaires were without exception holders of heredity titles, members of the gentry, politicians, or businessmen, and all were avid horsemen and breeders. To name but two, Henry Chaplin, the President of the Board of Agriculture, had a family background of Tory country gentlemen and was a dedicated rider, and Mr. John Gilmour, whose merchant father grew rich in the Empire, owned a Clydesdale stud of national reputation. Their self-interest and devotion to horse breeding seems obvious, especially in the context of the agricultural depression when livestock proved more profitable than the cultivation of grain.

Although economic agents of the horse markets were often moving within government circles, they had to face regulations. For example, a legal framework was developed which fashioned the scope of manoeuvre for import and export markets for horses. The most prominent case during the transition from horse to motor-power was the emergence of an export market of horses for slaughter. British charitable organisations such as the RSPCA, the Women’s Guild for Empire, and the National Federation of Women’s Institute pressured the government to prevent the export of horses for slaughter on grounds of “national honour” since the 1930s. However, though the government never publicly admitted it, the meat market was endorsed to manage the declining utility of horsepower. With technologies becoming cheaper, horsemeat markets were greeted by large businesses such as railway companies as way to dispose of their working horses without making a financial loss. Hence, the markets for working horses were not merely associated with the economic use and demand for their muscle power but were linked to government regulation.

Ultimately, an analysis of governmental coordination can be linked to wider socio-cultural and economic systems of consumption because policy outcome indeed influenced the use of the horse but likewise coordination was monitored by the agents of the working horse markets.

Luise Elsaesser

Twitter: @Luise_Elsaesser

How to Keep Society Equal: The Case of Pre-industrial East Asia (NR Online Session 4)

By Yuzuru Kumon (Bocconi University)

This research is due to be presented in the fourth New Researcher Online Session: ‘Equality & Wages’.


Theatrum orbis terrarum: Map Tartaria, by Abraham Ortelius. Available at State Library Victoria.



Is high inequality destiny? The established view is that societies naturally converge towards high inequality in the absence of catastrophes (world wars or revolutions) or the progressive taxation of the rich. Yet, I show that rural Japan, 1700-1870, is an unexpected historical case in which a stable equality was sustained without such aids. Most peasants owned land, the most valuable asset in an agricultural economy, and Japan remained a society of land-owning peasants. This contrasts with the landless laborer societies of contemporary Western Europe which were highly unequal. Why were the outcomes so different?

My research shows that the relative equality of pre-industrial Japan can partly be explained by the widespread use of adoptions in Japan, which was used as a means of securing a male heir. The reasoning becomes clear if we first consider the case of the Earls Cowper in 18th century England where adoption was not practiced. The first Earl Cowper was a modest landowner and married Mary Clavering in 1706. When Mary’s brother subsequently died, she became the heiress and the couple inherited the Clavering estate. Similar (miss)fortunes for their heirs led the Cowpers to become one of the greatest landed families of England. The Cowpers were not particularly lucky, as one quarter of families were heirless during this era of high child mortality. The outcome of this death lottery was inequality.

Had the Cowpers lived in contemporary Japan, they would have remained modest landowners. An heirless household in Japan would adopt a son. Hence, the Claverings would have an adopted son and the family estate would have remained in the family. To keep the blood in the family, the adopted son may have married a daughter if available. If unavailable, the next generation could be formed by total strangers but they would continue the family line. Amassing a fortune in Japan was unrelated to demographic luck.

Widespread adoptions were not a peculiarity of Japan and this mechanism can also explain why East Asian societies were landowning peasant societies. China also had high rates of adoption in addition to equal distributions of land according to surveys from the 1930s. Perhaps more surprisingly, adoptions were common in ancient Europe where the Greeks and Romans practiced adoptions to secure heirs. For example, Augustus, the first emperor of the Roman Empire, was adopted. Adoptions were a natural means of keeping wealth under the control of the family.

Europe changed due to the church discouraging adoptions from the early middle ages, leading to adoptions becoming rarities by the 11th century. The church was partially motivated by theology but also by the possibility that heir-less wealth would get willed to the church. They almost certainly did not foresee that their policies would lead to greater wealth inequality during the subsequent eras.


Figure 1. Land Distribution under Differing Adoption Regimes and Impartible Inheritance



My study shows by simulation that a large portion of the difference in wealth inequality outcomes between east and west can be explained by adoption (see figure 1). Societies without adoption have wealth distribution that are heavily skewed with many landless households unlike those with adoptions. Therefore, family institutions played a key role in determining inequality which had huge implications for the way society was organized in these two regions.

Interestingly, East Asian societies still have greater equality in wealth distributions today. Moreover, adoptions still amount to 10% of marriages in Japan which is a remarkably large share. Adoption may have continued creating a relatively equal society in Japan up to today.

Did the Ottomans Import the Low Wages of the British in the 19th Century? An Examination of Ottoman Textile Factories (NR Online Session 4)

By Tamer Güven (Istanbul University)

This research is due to be presented in the fourth New Researcher Online Session: ‘Equality & Wages’.


The Istanbul Grand Bazaar in the 1890s. Available at Wikimedia Commons.

Compared to the UK and Western Europe, there are a limited number of studies on wages and standards of living in the Ottoman empire. For the Ottoman empire the only source that can provide regular wage data for industry are the Ottoman state factories established in the 1840s to meet the needs of the state’s growing and centralized military and bureaucracy. Limitations in the sources of data are explained by the relative absence of industrial wage series in the monographies on Ottoman industrial institutions, and that manufacturing mainly comprised small manufacturers who did not keep records. This paucity in data may change as the Ottoman Archives become fully catalogued. The main aim of this study is to construct a wage series using the wage ledgers of those working in state factories. Consequently, I examined four prominent textile-related factories: Hereke Imperial Factory, Veliefendi Calico Factory, Bursa Silk Factory, and İzmit Cloth Factory. Only the Hereke Factory offers a 52-year wage series between 1848-1899. The data for the Veliefendi Factory started in 1848 but are disrupted in 1876 as the factory was transferred to military rule; the same applies to the İzmit Factory, which was established in 1844, but transferred to military rule in 1849.

I created two separate daily and monthly wage series to determine how many days workers worked per month and how this changed during the nineteenth century. Thus, not only the workers’ potential wages but also the workers’ observed monthly wages can be analysed. Some groups of workers were eliminated from the dataset for a variety of reasons. For example, civilian officials and masters working in factories were excluded because of their relatively high wages. Conversely, because of their relatively low wages, I also exclude carpet weavers —  mostly young girls and children.  I preferred to use median values for monthly wage series to include as many workers as possible in the analysis. As with much historical data, the wage series created in this study are incomplete. To overcome this I complement data for the Hereke Factory wage series with data from the  Veliefendi and Bursa Factories.

My results indicate that daily real wages increased by only by 0.03 per cent,  per annum,  between  1852 and 1899.  However, the real monthly wages of Hereke Factory workers rose by 0.11 per cent, per annum,  between 1848 and 1899, but by 0.24 per cent per annum using 1852 as a starting point.  Monthly wages increased faster than daily wages, but at the cost of more workdays for workers. Average workdays increased by 0.44 per cent, per annum over the span of the period. Although the Veliefendi Factory provides a narrower wage series from 1848 to 1876, it supports this pattern. Limited,  but prominent examinations of Ottoman wage history claim that construction, urban, and agricultural workers’ wages increased, albeit at different rates in the same period. How can we explain the increase in wages of other sectors when the wages of textile workers were stagnant?

Many observations on the Ottoman cities has shown that industrial production, particularly in the textile sector, shifted from urban to rural,  or from craft workshops to houses, to compete with cheap British yarn and fabric in the 19th century. According to my calculations, imports of Ottoman cotton yarn increased by a factor of 25 to 50 in the 19th century. This trend was most pronounced after the 1838 Anglo-Turkish Convention, when cheap English products were imported into the Ottoman Empire, and Ottoman producers sought cheaper labour.  Labour-saving machines both facilitated the export of  British yarns and fabrics to, and lowered wages in, the Ottoman empire.  Although the wage series for the Hereke factory,  and, to a more limited extent,  the Veliefendi factory provide evidence in support of this hypothesis, numerous studies on Ottoman industry in the 19th-century support the same argument, though without a wage series.