How Does Colonial Legacy Impact Economic Development – This workshop has a dual purpose. First, it aims to spread new knowledge about the long-term effects of colonialism. Second, it aims to stimulate dialogue between scholars and policymakers interested in developing social and economic policies that address the long-term effects of colonial history.

The workshop will be a half-day virtual event. In the morning, the keynote speaker will deliver a 30-minute lecture. After the break, the scientific papers will be presented in two consecutive groups with three speakers in each group. Each panel will be moderated by a lead scientist and speakers will be a mix of leading and emerging scientists. After that there will be a break. This will be followed by a panel discussion with scholars (and policymakers) on what policies can be developed to address the long-term impact of history.

How Does Colonial Legacy Impact Economic Development

How Does Colonial Legacy Impact Economic Development

Dr. Karen Jennings, PhD student at the Laboratory for the Economics of the Past (LEAP), University of Stellenbosch

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The legacy of colonialism and its impact on modern political economy have received considerable attention from historians and other social scientists. Empirical identification of this legacy has been of recent interest to economists and political scientists (see recent literature reviews by Nunn (2020) and Michalopoulos and Papaioannou (2020). Research shows that colonialism had a lasting impact on traditions and cultural practices and continues to influence today’s social and economic results.

Scholars acknowledge that important gaps remain in the literature documenting the long-term effects of colonialism. Our understanding of the local contexts (cultural, political, geographical) in which the effects of colonial history persisted is still limited. Although recent literature seeks to understand the role of ancestral traditions and cultural norms in socioeconomic development, research that seeks to document the interaction between these traditions and exogenous historical events is still preliminary. Furthermore, heterogeneous effects due to interactions with local circumstances and local institutions have not been well documented (Robinson (2019)). Moreover, colonialism as a determinant of current socio-economic outcomes has generally been analyzed as a package. Empirical determination of its long-term effects has mainly relied on comparisons between territories administered by different colonial powers. This crude approach left open the important question of whether different aspects of colonialism had different long-term effects. These open questions call for more research into the legacies of colonial history and its underlying mechanisms.

Despite acknowledged limitations, the extant literature has made it clear that policies to address many ills must consider the long-term effects of history in general. However, the unchanging nature of history has led some policymakers to question the political relevance of this attractive research agenda. Although colonial history cannot be changed, the question of what policies can be implemented to address its long-term effects is very relevant.

Harvard University’s Center for n Studies organizes related workshops, seminars, events and conferences in Cambridge, Boston and Johannesburg, South. We also include virtual events and activities that are free and open to the public. n The Study Center will consider requests to host, coordinate, sponsor or co-sponsor related events only if the event is sponsored by one of our faculty affiliates.

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Please note that the calendar also includes events and activities organized by organizations and entities not affiliated with the Harvard University Center for n Studies, and CAS does not endorse or assume responsibility for the content of these activities. If you would like us to share your event on our website, please email

The Study Center will consider requests to organize, coordinate, sponsor or co-sponsor related events only if the event is sponsored by one of our faculty affiliates. Event requests should be directed to the Associate Director by the funding faculty member. Debates about the origins and effects of European rule in Asia and Africa have animated the field of economic history since the 1850s. Decades after the end of colonialism, academics and the general public are still debating its legacy and how it shaped the ability of modern nation-states to achieve economic growth.

Former colonies are home to most of the world’s poor, but they are also home to many of the fastest-growing emerging economies. Can the study of colonialism explain the historical roots of poverty and growth? To what extent do differences in economic performance since independence reflect differences in how countries experienced colonial rule?

How Does Colonial Legacy Impact Economic Development

Since the 1990s, the study of the colonial legacy has changed its approach. In the past, economic historians took it for granted that the way colonial governments operated and the effects they left behind had more to do with the goals and capabilities of European states than with the regions they ruled. This assumption is no longer valid. Local conditions such as geography, local businesses and local institutions have had a significant impact on the emergence, operation and impact of these regimes.

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The economic history of colonialism is a synthesis of this new understanding. It brings together both economic and historical scholars to show how the complex interplay between European ideas and institutions and tropical societies and geographies shaped poverty and prosperity in these regions.

How did colonialism affect the standard of living of the subject nations? Recent works in the history of quantitative economics have pioneered the use of extant sources to answer this question. These studies show that experiences varied widely, with local and global factors shaping colonial states’ ability to raise taxes and spend money on welfare to varying degrees.

For example, many colonial officials saw no advantage in providing their subjects with educational opportunities beyond those required for government jobs. And yet there were great differences between the colonies. Take two British colonies in Asia: in 1951 In Sri Lanka (Ceylon) the literacy rate was 60 percent and in India it was 18 percent. Therefore, the ideology of colonial rule cannot explain such differences; we must also consider the capacity of colonial states and how local economic and political pressures affected them.

Some models stand out. Inequality is one example. In most colonial territories, the process of economic change, as well as the nature of governance, favored some groups over others. These divisions can be along racial lines. European officials and settlers were often treated favorably, to the detriment of the local majority. They can also be based on region, profession, caste, class and many other aspects.

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Business history is another example of how local conditions matter. Until recently, global business history assumed that modern business first emerged in Europe and traveled to the tropical world through European expansion and colonialism. There is no doubt that colonialism and capitalism were highly interrelated processes. For example, many commercial and corporate laws were codified in Europe and then spread throughout the world through colonial rule. But to think that modern business everywhere was a European legacy also suggests that local conditions mattered to the way business ventures operated, as well as how local businesses joined and shaped capitalism.

Again, recent work in this area has attempted to fill these gaps. It shows how colonialism sometimes prevented the emergence of local enterprises, but at other times encouraged local groups to take more risks and start new enterprises, from the Indian-owned cotton mills in the West Indies to the cultivation of cocoa in West Africa. A Chinese company in Southeast Asia. These works also show that business organizations in this world were different depending on where companies acquired their capital, on stock exchanges or social networks.

Addresses broad questions including: Is there a single story behind the rise of European power in Asia and Africa? Has colonialism made the world more unequal? How was the colonial state financed? Did colonialism hinder or help capitalism? Or why European empires are thought to have fundamentally changed the natural environment in Asia and Africa?

How Does Colonial Legacy Impact Economic Development

Debates about globalization, migration, global finance and environmental change are intensifying. Examining the relationship between colonialism and economic development can significantly advance such debates.

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Leigh Gardner is Associate Professor of Economic History at the London School of Economics and Research Fellow in African Economic History at Stellenbosch University, and Tirthankar Roy is Professor of Economic History at the London School of Economics.

An Economic History of Colonialism by Leigh Gardner and Tirthankar Roy is available on the Bristol University Press website. Order the book here for £19.99

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Anniversary of her accession to the British throne. Media reports showed the streets filled with well-wishers, even as millions more watched the festivities from home.

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