New Researcher Online Sessions


A number of New Researchers who had been due to present their work at the 2020 EHS Annual Conference will soon be discussing their research in a series of online sessions.

Some of these New Researchers have also agreed to share some of their research in the form of blog posts and videos, which will be made available prior to each online session. All available materials will be linked below.

Please note that these online sessions are not a replacement for the EHS Annual Conference, and new researchers are made up of postgraduates and early career researchers.

Sessions will be held every Wednesday, between 15th July and 19th August.

These sessions will last no longer than 1 hour and 15 minutes, with time for questions and discussion at the end. Presenters are appearing from across the world, and times have been chosen to best accommodate this.

We welcome and encourage attendance from anyone interested in economic and social history. All sessions are available for members and non-members of the EHS.

The following sessions are available, all GMT+1 (current London time):

  • Finance, Currency & Crisis – 15th July @ 4:30pm
    • Ruben Peeters (Utrecht University) – ‘Solving the perennial small firm credit problem: The case of the Netherlands, 1900-1940’
    • Maylis Avaro (Graduate Institute, Geneva & University Libre de Bruxelles) – ‘Zombie International Currency: The Pound Sterling 1945-1973’
    • Ryan Smith (University of Glasgow) – ‘The Middle East and the 1982 debt crisis’
  • Industry, Trade & Technology – 22nd July @ 10am
    • Mostafa Abdelaal (University of Cambridge) – ‘Elusive promises: The impacts of the Central African Federation on industrial development in Northern Rhodesia, 1953-63’
    • Björn Brey (University of Nottingham) – ‘The long-run gains from the early adoption of electricity’
    • Alexander Urrego-Mesa (Universitat de Barcelona) – ‘Food Security, Trade and Violence: From the First to the Second Globalization in Colombia 1916-2016’
  • Human Capital & Development – 29th July @ 5pm
    • Kathryne Crossley (University of Oxford) – ‘Honest, sober and willing: Oxford college servants, 1850-1939’
    • Matthew Curtis (University of California, Davis) – ‘The quantity and quality of pre-industrial children: Evidence from Québécois twins’
  • Equality & Wages – 5th August @ 9am
    • Tamer Güven (Istanbul University) – ‘Wages in the Ottoman textile factories, 1848-99’
    • Theresa Neef (Freie Universität Berlin) – ‘The Long Way to Gender Equality: Gender Differences in Pay in Germany, 1913-2016’
    • Yuzuru Kumon (Bocconi University) – ‘The deep roots of inequality’
  • Government & Colonization – 12th August @ 3pm
    • Matthew Birchall (University of Cambridge) – ‘Settler capitalism: Company colonisation and the rage for speculation’
    • Luise Elsaesser (European University Institute) – ‘Coordinating decline: Governmental regulation of disappearing horse markets in Britain, 1873-1957’
  • Spending & Networks – 19th August @ 12pm
    • Xabier García Fuente (Universitat de Barcelona) – ‘The paradox of redistribution in time: Social spending in 54 countries, 1967-2018’
    • Andres Mesa (Università degli Studi di Teramo) – ‘The Diaspora of a Diaspora: The Cassana and Rivarolo family network in the Atlantic, 1450-1530’

Collective bibliography on Pandemics in History

Inspired by the curated series available here, we are creating a collective bibliography on Pandemics in History to help us navigating the “uncharted territory” that we are currently living – it includes references from academic papers, book, and journals, as well as a section on primary resources in collaboration with Archives Portal Europe. Everyone is welcome to join & contribute: just add your references to the shared file, according to the existing categories, or create new categories if needed




Factor Endowments on the “Frontier”: Algerian Settler Agriculture at the Beginning of the 1900s

by Laura Maravall Buckwalter (University of Tübingen)

This research is due to be published in the Economic History Review and is currently available on Early View.


It is often claimed that access to land and labour during the colonial years determined land redistribution policies and labour regimes that had persistent, long-run effects.  For this reason, the amount of land and labour available in a colonized country at a fixed point in time are being included more frequently in regression frameworks as proxies for the types of colonial modes of production and institutions. However, despite the relevance of these variables within the scholarly literature on settlement economies, little is known about the way in which they changed during the process of settlement. This is because most studies focus on long-term effects and tend to exclude relevant inter-country heterogeneities that should be included in the assessment of the impact of colonization on economic development.

In my article, I show how colonial land policy and settler modes of production responded differently within a colony.  I examine rural settlement in French Algeria at the start of the 1900s and focus on cereal cultivation which was the crop that allowed the arable frontier to expand. I rely upon the literature that reintroduces the notion of ‘land frontier expansion’ into the understanding of settler economies. By including the frontier in my analysis, it is possible to assess how colonial land policy and settler farming adapted to very different local conditions. For exanple,  because settlers were located in the interior regions they encountered growing land aridity. I argue that the expansion of rural settlement into the frontier was strongly dependent upon the adoption of modern ploughs, intensive labour (modern ploughs were non-labour saving) and larger cultivated fields (because they removed fallow areas) which, in turn, had a direct impact on  colonial land policy and settler farming.

Figure 1. Threshing wheat in French Algeria (Zibans)

Buckwalter 1
Source: Retrieved from, last accessed 31st of May, 2019.


My research takes advantage of annual agricultural statistics reported by the French administration at the municipal level in Constantine for the years 1904/05 and 1913/14. The data are analysed in a cross-section and panel regression framework and, although the dataset provides a snapshot at only two points in time, the ability to identify the timing of settlement after the 1840s for each municipality provides a broader temporal framework.

Figure 2. Constantine at the beginning of the 1900s

Buckwalter 2
Source: Original outline of the map derives from mainly from Carte de la Colonisation Officielle, Algérie (1902), available online at the digital library from the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, retrieved from (accessed on 28 Apr. 2019) and ANOM-iREL, (accessed on 28 Apr. 2019).


The results illustrate how the limited amount of arable land on the Algerian frontier forced  colonial policymakers to relax  restrictions on the amount of land owned by settlers. This change in policy occurred because expanding the frontier into less fertile regions and consolidating settlement required agricultural intensification –  changes in the frequency of crop rotation and more intensive ploughing. These techniques required larger fields and were therefore incompatible  with the French colonial ideal of establishing a small-scale, family farm type of settler economy.

My results also indicate that settler farmers were able to adopt more intensive techniques mainly by relying on the abundant indigenous labour force. The man-to-cultivable land ratio, which increased after the 1870s due to continuous indigenous population growth and colonial land expropriation measures, eased settler cultivation, particularly on the frontier. This confirms that the availability of labour relative to land is an important variable that should be taken into consideration to assess the impact of settlement on economic development. My findings are in accord with Lloyd and Metzer (2013, p. 20), who argue that, in Africa, where the indigenous peasantry was significant, the labour surplus allowed low wages and ‘verged on servility’, leading to a ‘segmented labour and agricultural production system’. Moreover, it is precisely the presence of a large indigenous population relative to that of the settlers, and the reliance of settlers upon the indigenous labour and the state (to access land and labour), that has allowed Lloyd and Metzer to describe Algeria (together with Southern Rhodesia, Kenya and South Africa) as having a “somewhat different type of settler colonialism that emerged in Africa over the 19th and early 20th Centuries” (2013, p.2).

In conclusion, it is reasonable to assume that, as rural settlement gains ground within a colony, local endowments and cultivation requirements change. The case of rural settlement in Constantine reveals how settler farmers and colonial restrictions on ownership size adapted to the varying amounts of land and labour.


To contact:

Twitter: @lmaravall



Ageron, C. R. (1991). Modern Algeria: a history from 1830 to the present (9th ed). Africa World Press.

Frankema, E. (2010). The colonial roots of land inequality: geography, factor endowments, or institutions? The Economic History Review, 63(2):418–451.

Frankema, E., Green, E., and Hillbom, E. (2016). Endogenous processes of colonial settlement. the success and failure of European settler farming in Sub-Saharan Africa. Revista de Historia Económica-Journal of Iberian and Latin American Economic History, 34(2), 237-265.

Easterly, W., & Levine, R. (2003). Tropics, germs, and crops: how endowments influence economic development. Journal of monetary economics, 50(1), 3-39.

Engerman, S. L., and Sokoloff, K. L. (2012). Economic development in the Americas since 1500: endowments and institutions. Cambridge University Press.

Lloyd, C. and Metzer, J. (2013). Settler colonization and societies in world history: patterns and concepts. In Settler Economies in World History, Global Economic History Series 9:1.

Lützelschwab, C. (2007). Populations and Economies of European Settlement Colonies in Africa (South Africa, Algeria, Kenya, and Southern Rhodesia). In Annales de démographie historique (No. 1, pp. 33-58). Belin.

Lützelschwab, C. (2013). Settler colonialism in Africa Lloyd, C., Metzer, J., and Sutch, R. (2013), Settler economies in world history. Brill.

Willebald, H., and Juambeltz, J. (2018). Land Frontier Expansion in Settler Economies, 1830–1950: Was It a Ricardian Process? In Agricultural Development in the World Periphery (pp. 439-466). Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

Military casualties and exchange rates during the First World War: did the Eastern Front matter?

by Pablo Duarte and Andreas Hoffmann (Leipzig University)

An article expanding on this blog has been published in the Economic History Review.


Russion troops going to the front. Available at Wikimedia Commons.

In 1918 the Entente forces defeated the Central Powers on the Western Front. The First World War, with countless brutal battles and over 40 million casualties, had finally ended.

During the war, all governments substantially increased their national debt and promised to hand the bill to the losers. They also promised to return to the pre-war gold parity rather than inflating and devaluing their currency. Since the outcome of the war was expected to severely affect currency values, particularly for the losers,  foreign exchange traders had an incentive to closely follow war events to update their beliefs on who was more likely to win.

According to Ferguson’s (1998) The Pity of War, the lost morale of the German troops — reflected in higher numbers of prisoners of war and of soldiers surrendering on the Western Front — was the ultimate reason for their defeat. Complementing this argument, Hall (2004) provided evidence that military casualties on the Western Front — the key front to finally winning the war — can help explain contemporary fluctuations in the exchange rates between belligerents’ currencies.

Although finally decided in the West, historians have emphasized the relevance of the global dimension of the First World War and the importance of the Eastern Front in understanding its complex evolution. Imagine it is 1914. Russia has just entered the war (earlier than expected), upsetting the plans of the Central Powers to circumvent a two-front war. Events on one front affected those on the other. But did contemporary traders, like historians today, consider the Eastern Front to be of relevance?

In our forthcoming article, we provide the first empirical insights into the relative importance of the Eastern Front during the First World War from the perspective of contemporary foreign exchange traders. Building on Hall’s study, the article indicates when and to what extent military casualties from both the Western and  Eastern Fronts were linked to exchange rate fluctuations during the First World War, and suggest that traders used this information as an indicator as to  which side was more likely to win.

To analyze the link between exchange rates and casualties we have introduced a novel dataset:  the German Reichsarchiv and the Austrian War Office. Merging our dataset with that for the Western Front employed by Hall (2004), we have been able to construct a rich dataset on war casualties for France, Britain, and Russia as well as Germany and Austria-Hungary, for  both Fronts.


Figure 1. 15,000 Russian Prisoners of war in Germany.

Duarte & Hoffmann
Russian prisoners in Germany. Available at Wikimedia Commons.


Using the digital archives of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (a Swiss newspaper),  we have further documented information on casualties, specifically  the number of prisoners of war (Figure 1).  The following quote from December 1914 makes this finding explicit:

Berlin, Dec. 31 [1914] (Wolff. Authorized) The overall number of prisoners of war (no civilian prisoners) in Germany at the end of the year is 8,138 officers and 577,875 men. This number does not include a portion of those captured on the run in Russian Poland nor any of those still in transit. The overall number is comprised of the following: French 3,159 officers and 215,905 men, including 7 generals; Russians 3,575 officers and 306,294 men, including 3 generals; British 492 officers and 18,824 men (Neue Zürcher Zeitung, 1 Jan. 1915, p. A1.).


In summary, our forthcoming article provides evidence that foreign exchange traders recognized the global dimension of the war, especially the Eastern and Western Fronts.  Casualties on both Fronts were associated with exchange rate fluctuations. The number of soldiers captured on the Eastern Front affected exchange rates in the early war years. Foreign exchange traders gave additional weight to the Eastern Front during the first year of the war because Russia’s attack came as a surprise and the number of casualties was substantially higher than on the Western Front.

From autumn 1916 onwards, even though Russia had not yet left the war, our findings indicate that traders believed that the key to winning the war was in the west.  The Brusilov offensive, a massive Russian attack (from June to September 1916), had proven that the Central Powers would face substantial opposition in the East. Moreover, the Allied forces on the Western Front had started to coordinate joint offenses.


To contact the authors: Twitter: @economusiker Twitter: @Andhoflei



Ferguson, N. (1998). The Pity of War. Basic Books.

Hall, G. J., ‘Exchange rates and casualties during the First World War’, Journal of Monetary Economics, 51 (2004), pp. 1711–42.




Obituary: Professor Robert (Bob) Millward

The Economic History Society is saddened to learn of the recent death of Professor Robert (Bob) Millward. Professor Millward was professor of economics at Salford University before taking the chair in economic history at Manchester University in 1989. Bob was a highly-regarded scholar with diverse interests in economic history and he will be sorely missed. Read an academic appreciation of Robert Millward here

#EHS2020 University of Oxford – Call For Papers open

The 2020 Annual Conference will be held at St Catherine’s College, Oxford, Friday 17 – Sunday 19 April.  Registration, sessions, delegate accommodation, dining, and meetings will all be located in the College.

  • A link to the call for papers can be found here.  Deadline: 2 September 2019
  • A link to the call for posters can be found here.  Deadline: 18 November 2019

More information here

Screen Shot 2019-06-11 at 19.34.58
EHS 2019 Conference dinner

‘Money talks – give yours an Empire accent’: the economic failure of Britain’s Empire Marketing Board

by David M. Higgins (Newcastle University) and Brian Varian (Swansea University)

This research will be presented during the EHS Annual Conference in Belfast, April 5th – 7th 2019. Conference registration can be found on the EHS website.


The formation of the Empire Marketing Board (EMB) in 1926 was a unique experiment in interwar Britain: it was the first, publicly funded marketing board in the UK that sought to encourage domestic consumption of empire foodstuffs and raw materials. Using a diverse range of marketing methods – including films, cinema broadcasts, newspaper advertisements and especially posters – the Board aimed to increase public awareness of the strong economic interdependence between Britain and its Empire.

This relationship was longstanding. Britain was unquestionably the ‘vent for surplus’ for many empire products such as New Zealand butter, cheese and lamb, Indian tea and Australian frozen beef. Yet by the 1920s, the Dominions and other primary-producing countries were increasingly competing in the British market, necessitating a reassessment of Britain’s relationship with the Dominions. Importantly, it was recognised that the purchase of empire produce provided the means for the Dominions to increase their consumption of British manufactures.

Unlike most countries, Britain pursued an essentially free-trade policy in the 1920s. There was simply no scope for Britain to favour empire produce through the extension of preferential tariff rates, a policy known as ‘imperial preference’. Yet the Dominions had applied preferential tariff rates to their imports of manufactures from Britain.

Consequently, Britain attempted to correct this imbalance through the creation of the EMB, which would favour Dominion produce not through tariffs, but rather through publicity. This approach was a stop-gap that was superseded by the Ottawa agreements of 1932, when Britain’s abandonment of free trade finally allowed the country to implement preferential tariff rates.

To date, much of the research on the EMB has claimed that it served an important function by fostering imperial ideology within the empire. But while the cultural impact of the EMB has been studied, its economic impact has not. Our study, to be presented at the Economic History Society’s 2019 annual conference, is the first to evaluate the economic impact of the EMB.

We begin by describing the scale of the problem confronting the Board: by 1924, for example, almost 80% of Britain’s beef imports originated from ‘foreign’ countries, principally Latin America while over 55% of butter imports originated from outside the Empire. In fact, cheese was the only major food product in which the empire dominated Britain’s imports.

In our study, we focus on a sample of the iconic posters that were issued by the EMB and displayed in cities throughout Britain. Using a series of regression analyses, we test whether these posters – the EMB’s most prominent form of advertising – raised the empire’s share of Britain’s imports of key foodstuffs, including butter, cheese, wheat, tea, rice, sugar and beef. Our econometric results indicate that the EMB did not exert a statistically significant effect on the empire’s share of these imports. In economic terms, Britain’s short-lived EMB was a failure.


Higgins and Varian
Figure 1: Stylised grocer’s window exhibiting domestic and empire produce caption


From one perspective, our results suggest that appeals to patriotism and imperial ‘self-help’ were fundamentally misguided. Empire suppliers had to compete with well-established foreign producers whose products were held in high-esteem by UK consumers: chilled Argentine beef was a far superior product to the frozen product from the Antipodes; while Danish butter predominated in much of northern England.

There were other key problems that the EMB ignored. Possibly the greatest shortcoming of the EMB was its failure to differentiate sufficiently the products of individual dominions from those of the empire.

In this regard, the Merchandise Marks Act 1926 was unhelpful: vendors were at liberty to sell butter and beef either with a definite indication of origin or the term ‘empire’;  for other produce, such as cheese, retailers were not required to indicate origin. While the EMB was advertising ‘Empire’ to little effect, the marketing campaigns of Dominion control boards, such as the New Zealand Dairy Produce Control Board, were winning the British consumer through more differentiated advertising.

Moreover, we argue that the EMB was underfunded. From 1928 to 1931, the EMB’s publicity expenditure averaged 0.07% of the value of Britain’s imports from the empire. In contrast, the New Zealand Dairy and Produce Control Board’s expenditure on its well-defined marketing campaign was 0.13% of the value of Britain’s imports of dairy products from New Zealand.

Our study of the EMB has contemporary relevance to debates on ‘trade blocs’. The EMB represented an attempt to forge a trade bloc through the non-conventional approach of advertising – extending preference within the constraint of free trade. While this innovative experiment of the interwar era failed (economically), it is nevertheless indicative of Britain’s desire to reorient its trade toward the Empire. In this respect, the EMB was a precursor to the ultimately ‘successful’ formation of trade blocs and, indeed, disintegration of the world economy in the 1930s.


Implicit or unconscious bias in universities

At the Women’s meeting at the Society Conference a couple of weeks ago Dr Amy L. Erickson, Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Cambridge, gave an overview of one of the most serious issues affecting women in research today; the issue of implicit or unconscious bias in University departments and decision making. Here she summarises the key points for those who missed it, with some useful links and tips for more information.

The EHS took a pioneering approach to tacking gender inequality in academia by establishing its Women’s Committee in 1988 and collating a directory of women in the profession, published in 1993 and 1996, to improve visibility. Since then the number of women in the higher reaches of the profession has increased dramatically but still does not reflect the lower reaches, as reported by the Women’s Committee’s ‘Census of economic historians’ in 2007. The Women’s Committee is currently looking to set up a mentoring scheme and is actively seeking ideas on how to further approach the problems of implicit bias.

Many of us might consider our institutions relatively free from overt gender and ethnic bias. Blatantly sexist or racist comments are gratifyingly rarer now but implicit bias is widely recognised as a significant problem and the approach of individual institutions to ensuring it does not affect behaviour and decision making varies enormously. Some institutions in the UK require all new staff to undergo extensive online and face-to-face training and induction to make staff aware of how bias affects them in hiring and in teaching. Others may regulate for bias, and have large programmes to ensure gender, ethnic and ability balance but don’t train staff to be aware of the implicit issue, and so leave micro outcomes to chance. This may be through lack of coordination, or it may be because management perceive the issue is not thought to be affecting their institution.

Most institutions are only just beginning to become aware of the problems of implicit or unconscious bias. Judging from the discussion at the London’s women historians conference in March few institutions train or manage the issue of implicit bias formally. [ /]. The term is not meant to excuse overt bias, but to understand the micro-assumptions that we all make on a daily basis without thinking about them.

The term ‘implicit bias’ has been popularised by Harvard’s Project Implicit site where anyone can test their unconscious assumptions about race, gender, sexual orientation, or mental health, while contributing to the project’s data collection. The Equality Challenge Unit prefers ‘unconscious’ bias, defined as ‘bias that happens automatically and is triggered by our brain making quick judgments and assessments of people and situations, influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences’.[1]

A significant body of psychological research has demonstrated that these unconscious assumptions work to the detriment of women and members of ethnic groups other than white in a professional situation. Even very slight, incremental disadvantage adds up to significant professional disparities, as meticulously explained by Virginia Valian’s Tutorials for Change, which examines ‘gender schemas’ (implicit bias) and science careers. The distinction, identified since the 1970s, between our instinctive mind and our reflective, ‘rational’ mind, is the difference between thinking fast and thinking slow (Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow, 2011). We all need to think more slowly about the problems inherent in our fast thinking.

Why it matters

When a CV has a female name at the top it is ranked lower than if the same CV has a male name at the top. If it has a typically white British name at the top it is ranked higher than if the name is identifiably of a different ethnicity.[2]

Letters of reference for job or higher education applications differ systematically according to whether the applicant is female or male. Phrases to describe white males are more fulsome and attribute innate talent; everyone else is more likely to be described as hard-working, using more pedestrian adjectives.

Unconscious stereotypes that advantage white males are made by everyone – women and men, feminist and non-feminist, and all races (of those studied, which tend to be in the USA).

The unconscious assumptions made by our non-rational minds means that our judgments of merit are inseparable from sex and race. In other words, we are collectively incapable of operating a meritocracy. Instead, we operate a white male preference system — in graduate admissions, in hiring, and in teaching. Anyone who doubts the differential way in which academics are treated on the basis of sex may wish to read transgender scientist Ben Barres’ discussion of his experience in academia first as a woman and then as a man.[3] The interactive Gendered Language in Teaching Reviews allows you to investigate how female and male teachers are systematically described differently by students.

The effects of stereotypes on members of negatively stereotyped groups is another field of psychological research, known as ‘stereotype threat’. Interestingly, everyone (including white men) is vulnerable to stereotype threat in specific circumstances where they do not fit the stereotype of success in that field. The best introduction is Claude Steele’s Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do (2010) which he summarises in his lectures on the topic, such as the recent one in the Distinctive Voices series. For an updated review of the literature, see

What we can do about it

We can all use our privilege as academics to improve the situation.

  • In terms of hiring, we can ensure as part of Athena Swan processes that implicit bias training is required of all those involved.
  • In reference letters, notice the language used and the attributes ascribed, remembering that women consistently have to meet a higher standard than men to get the same recognition.
  • For both committee meetings and academic seminars, train chairs in the active use of inclusive approaches. On seminar chairing, see David Chalmers’ ‘Guidelines for respectful, constructive, and inclusive philosophical discussion’ and the British Philosophical Association’s Good Practice Scheme on chairing, and these procedures can be applied to chairing committee meetings as well.
  • Take an active role in noticing contributions from negatively stereotyped group members which may get overlooked or underappreciated.
  • Double-check our reading lists, both for subject matter and authors. It matters whose stories we tell, and whose research is sanctioned by inclusion.
  • Use counter-stereotypical examples.
  • Columbia University’s Center for Teaching and Learning has an online review of the classroom issues and techniques that can be used to address them, at This can be incorporated in training for new teachers.

There are more good ideas for Taking Action from the blog of Anne Murphy, Women’s Committee chair at the EHS, from the Royal Historical Society’s 2014 report on Gender Equality in Higher Education, and from the British Philosophical Association’s 2011 report Women in Philosophy in the UK, and its Good Practice Scheme.

[1], p.1

[2] The most convenient place to find further references is in the 2013 literature review commissioned by the Equality Challenge Unit Other studies have been done in the USA and in Sweden.

[3] ‘Does gender matter?’, Nature 442 (13 July 2006) | doi:10.1038/442133a

Credit, Currency & Commerce: New Perspectives in Financial and Monetary History

Conference Report: University of Cambridge, 13-14 September 2016
by Sabine Schneider, University of Cambridge

‘Dividend Day at the Bank of England’ by George Elgar Hicks (1824-1914), Bank of England Museum. Copyright: The Governor and Company of the Bank of England


Retracing the path to the Great Recession, Barry Eichengreen has observed how ‘The historical past is a rich repository of analogies that shape perceptions and guide public policy decisions.’[1] Certainly, recent years have shown that analogies drawn from historical experience are most in demand ‘when there is no time for reflection.’[2] Beyond the study of banking crises and financial regulation, the past decade of economic turmoil has generated renewed scholarly interest in the evolution and politics of financial capitalism. While the legacy of the Great Recession has profoundly shaken established tenets of mainstream economics, it has also stressed the need for new historical narratives that understand the world economy within the specific cultural contexts, economic ideas and political debates of the past. On 13 and 14 September, the Centre for Financial History at Darwin College, Cambridge, hosted an early career conference to foster an interdisciplinary dialogue about histories of finance, global trade and monetary policy. Over the two conference days, twenty early career scholars and doctoral researchers presented papers that ranged, in period and geography, from medieval Catalonia and eighteenth-century Scotland to pre-war China and post-war Britain. This review will reflect on three major themes of the conference: the art and science of central banking, studies in political economy, and cultural approaches to the history of finance.

Central banking and the formation of monetary policy have resurfaced as key concerns for economic historians since the 2007/8 financial crisis. The debate over the Bank of England’s evolving role as Lender of Last Resort, for instance, was re-examined by Dr Paul Kosmetatos (Edinburgh). His paper analysed Adam Smith’s and Henry Thornton’s differing recommendations for crisis containment as a starting-point for evaluating the Bank’s conduct in 1763 and 1772. Kosmetatos concluded that the Bank’s timely injection of liquidity via the banknote channel during the latter crisis showed that ‘the attitude and means of intervention described by Thornton were already practically in place.’ Pamfili Antipa (Banque de France/Paris School of Economics) presented new Bank of England balance sheet data that adds considerably to our knowledge of how the British government financed the Napoleonic and Revolutionary Wars. Her joint research with Professor Christophe Chamley (Boston) revealed that the Bank strategically operated in the secondary market for Exchequer bills in order to re-direct funds to the Treasury. For the post-war period, Oliver Bush’s paper (Bank of England/LSE) investigated Britain’s approach to monetary and macroprudential policies in the years after the UK Radcliffe Report (1959). Based on collaborative research with Dr David Aikman (Bank of England) and Professor Alan M. Taylor (California), Bush presented new findings on the ‘causal impacts of interest rates and credit controls’ on inflation and economic activity.[3]

The evolution and management of modern central banks in mainland Europe and Great Britain formed the focus of three further papers. Starting with the foundation of Germany’s Reichsbank in 1876, Ousmène Mandeng (LSE) explored the role of competition and monetary stability as integral elements of the operation of Germany’s central bank prior to 1890. Mandeng argued that the Reichsbank’s flexible reserve requirements, as well as its rivalry with regional note issuing banks in the market for bills, created an effective, incentives-based system of central banking. Enrique Jorge-Sotelo (LSE) took a micro-historical approach to the Spanish banking crisis of 1931, assessing the criteria the Banco de España employed for the provision and conditions of its emergency loans. In her closing keynote, Dr Anne Murphy (Hertfordshire) examined the origins of modern management practices at the Bank of England.[4] Shedding light on the Bank’s working processes, recruitment, and staff training during the 1780s, Dr Murphy demonstrated that the Bank took important steps towards fostering and monitoring good managerial practice, which over the long run may have aided ‘the development of trust in the British public finances.’[5]

The politics of currency, taxation, and trade shaped a second major strand of the conference. Professor Martin Daunton (Cambridge) delivered a wide-ranging keynote on ‘Bretton Woods Revisited: Currency, Commerce and Contestation’. Shifting the focus away from the predominant narrative of US-UK rivalry at Bretton Woods, Daunton re-evaluated the specific domestic concerns of several Western European and Commonwealth countries, which affected their negotiating positions at the 1944 summit and at subsequent international trade conferences. The League of Nations’ work in the field of trade finance in the years leading up to the Great Depression was re-examined by Jamieson Gordon Myles (Geneva). His paper investigated the League’s failed internationalist efforts, and traced how economic nationalism and beggar-thy-neighbour policies could take hold in the inter-war period. New research on France, China, and Germany prompted further reflections on the impact of global integration in capital markets, and its effect on nations’ public finances. Jerome Greenfield (Cambridge), for example, investigated the political economy of France’s fiscal constitution between 1789 and 1852. Greenfield’s paper elucidated the central government’s rationale for re-introducing and extending indirect taxes after they had been abolished during the French Revolution. Ghassan Moazzin (Cambridge) discussed the Chinese state’s practice of raising capital for public expenses through foreign bond markets in the early twentieth century. His paper demonstrated that the interventions of Western bankers to uphold China’s credit had a critical influence on the political outcome of the Republican Revolution of 1911. Considering the nexus between finance and diplomacy, Sabine Schneider (Cambridge) appraised the role of cosmopolitan financial elites in Germany’s conversion to a gold standard. Her paper examined the semi-official position of Gerson von Bleichröder, private banker and economic advisor to Bismarck, and his interventions in the monetary reforms Germany pursued after unification.

Several papers pointed to the underexplored potential of cultural and social history to broaden our understanding of how economic cultures, ideologies and policies are themselves socially constructed. Owen Brittan’s paper (Cambridge) drew on autobiographical evidence to assess men’s anxiety over bankruptcy and debt in later Stuart England, and revealed how such fears were mediated through ideals of masculinity, honour and economic independence. Henry Sless (Reading) discussed the news reporting of financial events in the Victorian era, while Damian Clavel (Geneva) revisited the speculative bubble in Latin American bonds that gripped investors in the 1820s, focusing, in particular, on how underwriters constructed the notorious story of the ‘fictitious country of Poyais’.[6] Exploring changing cultural attitudes to speculation, Kieran Heinemann (Cambridge) traced the practices of brokers and investors in Britain’s grey market for stocks and shares during the half-century leading up to the Prevention of Fraud Act of 1939. Heinemann recovered a largely forgotten ‘discursive struggle over the boundaries between investment, speculation and gambling’, which still resonates with the concerns of investors and regulators today.

Credit, Currency & Commerce brought together thirty-six junior researchers and senior academics from across history, economics, development economics, business management, and philosophy. Their contributions from a variety of disciplinary angles and methodologies produced lively exchanges on the trajectory of financial and monetary history, and the opportunities it holds for mastering a deeper understanding of the world economy.


The full conference report and programme are available at

The conference was generously funded by the Economic History Society, the Centre for Financial History and the Faculty of History at the University of Cambridge. For more information on grants and conference funds:


[1] Barry Eichengreen, Hall of Mirrors: The Great Depression, the Great Recession and the Uses and Misuses of History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 377.

[2] Eichengreen, Hall of Mirrors, 377.

[3] David Aikman, Oliver Bush, and Alan M. Taylor, ‘Monetary Versus Macroprudential Policies: Causal Impacts of Interest Rates and Credit Controls in the Era of the UK Radcliffe Report’, NBER Working Paper No. 22380 (June 2016).

[4] Anne Murphy, ‘The Bank of England and the Genesis of Modern Management’, eabh Working Paper, No. 16-02 (August 2016); see also, Anne Murphy, ‘“Writes a fair hand and appears to be well qualified”: the recruitment of Bank of England clerks, 1800-1815’, Financial History Review, 22 (2015), 19-44.

[5] Murphy, ‘The Bank of England and the Genesis of Modern Management’, 29.

[6] Carmen M. Reinhardt and Kenneth S. Rogoff, This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009), 93.

How (much) were British workers paid ? Evidence beyond wage rates

J. Cobden (1953) The White Slaves of England

Since Phelps Brown Hopkins published ‘Seven centuries’ in the mid 1950s economic historians and cliometricians have used ‘day wages’ – day rates for masons, carpenters and bricklayers taken from building accounts – to estimate the earnings of workers of the past. Whilst recent work has shown that these rates were not what the masons, carpenters and bricklayers actually received [1] many historians have been working on the means of earnings of other groups. A wage formation conference at the Institute of Historical Research on 16 September aimed to bring the notion that wages are more multifarious than day rates to the fore. The programme brought research on lead and coal miners, hostmen, keelmen, laundresses, sailors, bankers, spinners, agricultural labourers and clergy to debate, and the features that all these groups had in common in their pay before 1900 was an observation that all who attended shared.

Kicking off the day in opening remarks, Leigh Shaw-Taylor put the conclusions that authors such as Greg Clark, and Robert Allen and others have drawn from long run compilations of builder’s day rates within a theoretical context of structural change, pointing out that the role of real wages and average wages has been confused by cliometricians, and reminding us that Malthus predicted shifts in the wages of the poor, not of the average worker.

In the first presented case of the day Jane Humphries and Ben Schneider (Oxford) overturned the notion, common in recent historiography, that spinners were well paid and part of a high wage economy in England in the 18th century; rather they showed only the most productive spinners in England earned what Arthur Young described, moreover many spinners were employed by parishes at low piece rates under the poor laws. Amy Ridgway (Exeter) presented the only data from agriculture at the conference. Using the records of Kingston Lacy in Dorset she showed that the number of day labourers hired on a casual basis increased throughout the late 18th century and early 19th century, contrary to the established literature. Kathryn Gary (Lund) presented a new wage series for unskilled men in Sweden in the long run. She showed definitively that the wages unskilled men were not enough to support a family.

Four papers presented at the workshop dealt with the earnings of miners or those engaged in the coal industry. Andy Burn (Durham) showed that the keelmen of Newcastle-on-Tyne in the late 17th and early 18th century had pay that consisted of variable elements. Part was for hauling, another part for loading, and the rates varied according to location and season. Although the men were relatively well-paid when they were at work, the seasonality of the trade challenged living standards, and created a public order problem for the authorities. Tim Barmby (Newcastle) has been researching the Allendale lead miners. There men and mine owners bargained a price per fathom to be mined. To bargain effectively they needed to be able to predict, or have better information about the seams and geology that they were mining. Barmby shows that wage bargains were a means by which the mine owners extracted information from the more knowledgable miners. Unsurprisingly, the system produced unequal gains, with the best teams repeatedly winning the bargains. Guy Solomon (Exeter), who has fully quantitatively analysed Peter Kirby’s 2010 data shows that piece rates in coal mining in Northumberland brought about large variations in wage amongst workers doing the same job. Matthew Pawelski (Lancaster) showed how a Derbyshire free miner of the mid 18th century, John Naylor, used his own rights to common mining land to earn a large amount to take him out of a period of significant indebtedness. The case shows that as well as having his own resources, Naylor took local work with other employers when he could, and highlights the multifarious nature of earning for men of this class, and the role of book credit in such small enterprise.

Richard Blakemore (Reading) has spent the last three years looking at how sailors were paid. He debunked the common myth that sailors were an early modern global proletariat paid poorly wages. Instead he shows that Sailors earnings were, again, highly variable – many mariners made money from trading goods between ports. The form in which sailors were paid varied according to risk. Blakemore showed that the bargaining systems between shipowners and mariners benefited both parties at different times. Laundresses – a vital group never properly examined before – are the subject of Kathryne Crossley’s (Oxford) research. Drawing on the records of Oxford Colleges she shows that their status, and the means by which they were paid shifted over the 17th and 18th centuries. In the earlier period they operated as enterprising sole traders, in the 19th century they were integrated into the discipline of college staff. Anne Murphy (Hertfordshire) brought some badly needed research into white collar workers. Bank of England clerks had much in common with sailors – and laundresses – it turns out. The basic salary that the clerks received was at the very lowest end of white-collar earnings in in London. Variation and extra income were earned by the clerks through gratuities, frequently for favours for clients, and trading illegitimately as brokers. Judy Stephenson (Oxford) gave a review approach, centred around the question of trying to work out how representative day wages used in macroeconomics series really are of earners in London across the long eighteenth century. Early research, funded by Cambridge Humanities Grant, indicates that few London workers were paid by the day before 1800. Wouter Marchand (Utrecht) demonstrated that the pay of clergy in early modern Friesland was dependent on the quality of land that church lands produced income from. The clergy are one of those groups that economists love to refer to as sacrificing wages for status. Marchand shows that their wages were not determined by custom. The best paid clergy were in merged or combined parishes on fertile soil.

The commonalities between the cases presented at the workshop was remarkable. These kept coffee breaks and lunch and dinner abuzz with debate, conversation and connections. The most marked was the observation of varying levels of income due to the effects of piece rates, bargaining and variable pay structures. Variation in earnings of people doing the same jobs was a consistent theme throughout the cases presented. Moreover, nearly all the cases showed only small part of income came from basic pay, and auxiliary rates, gratuities, alternate employment and bargains, were used to meet the problems of information asymmetry, seasonality or uncertainty. This was directly related to the materiality of some of the occupations. It was also noted that the agency or bargaining power of workers in a number of sectors was a determinant of their income. A final comment was that that ‘custom’, which dominates a great deal of historical literature, was not mentioned all day as as a determining variable in any of the cases presented.

The conference reinforced the idea held by many participants that wages in the early modern period and nineteenth century were a more complex issue than the use of real wages in long run studies have suggested, but it also showed that the topic of wage formation is ripe for further research. The full proceedings and papers will be published at a later date.

Judy Stephenson.

[1] Stephenson, EcHR, forthcoming.