Stellenbosch to host the first prestigious World Economic History Congress on African soil
Does the cause for Africa’s relatively slow economic progress lie in African institutions, arising from its colonial and pre-colonial history, or in later political developments? What can Africa learn from the economic histories of other countries and continents?
These are some of the key questions that delegates to the prestigious World Economic History Congress (WEHC 2012), held from 9-13 July in Stellenbosch, will deliberate on. It is the first time that the congress, hosted at Stellenbosch University (SU) and presented by the Economic History Society of Southern Africa (EHSSA) and the SU Department of Economics, is to be held in Africa.
Themed “The Roots of Development”, the congress will see some 800 delegates from around the world – including academics and researchers in the field of economic history, and economic policymakers interested in economic history – debating issues ranging from ancient trade routes, the spread of currency, and Medieval marriage patterns, to the more modern-day issues of China’s rapid economic take-off, land grabbing and food security in Africa and environmental degradation.
“Holding the Congress in Africa is symbolically important,” says Dr Sophia du Plessis, Senior Lecturer in the SU Department of Economics and Chairperson of the Organising Committee. “It will clearly show that the International Economic History Association believes that economic history holds lessons for Africa and that Africa is an important area for research in economic history. Holding the Congress in Stellenbosch would encourage involvement by the African academic community, thus increasing participation by underrepresented countries. It would also give greater impetus to recent attempts to instigate more research on economic history in the African context, linked particularly to the institutional and quantitative perspectives that have been gaining popularity in the international literature.” More than 80 African scholars have already registered for the congress, up more than 400% from previous World Economic History Congresses.
Dr Du Plessis adds that strong emphasis is placed on research and networking. “Scholars from the developing and the developed world will present new hypotheses, data and analytical techniques, thus broadening our understanding of the historical evolution of societies and economies. In Africa, such understanding impacts increasingly on policymaking and on private initiative, and the 2012 congress will strengthen this trend. Most importantly, holding the 2012 World Economic History Congress in Africa will generate renewed interest in the study of economic history in Africa and will provide a fresh perspective on the relevance of economic history in the developing world.”
The World Economic History Congress is an initiative of the International Economic History Association (IEHA). Established in 1960, the IEHA unites economic historians from almost 40 countries in Africa, America, Asia, Europe and Oceania.
Distinguished speakers include the South African Minister of Finance, Mr Pravin Gordhan, who will deliver the opening address, while Prof James Robinson, the David Florence Professor of Government at Harvard University in Boston and Professor Deidre McCloskey, Distinguished Professor of Economics and History, University of Illinois, Chicago and Professor of Economic History, Gothenburg University, Sweden, will deliver keynote addresses. Prof Robinson is best known for his recent book, Why Nations Fail, co-authored with Prof Daron Acemoglu from MIT, which advances the notion that institutions, notably political freedom, are central to long-run economic progress. Prof Robinson will discuss the impact of colonialism in Africa’s development, and point out the misconceptions of the current literature.
Prof McCloskey is currently working on a series of books that investigate the causes of the First Industrial Revolution and lessons we can learn from this event. Her latest book, Bourgeois Dignity, has received excellent reviews.
Other speakers include Prof Grietjie Verhoef, President-Elect of the International Economic History Association (IEHA) and Prof Gareth Austin, Head: International History Department, The Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva.
The Congress attracts scholars from a broad range of fields, reflected in the diversity of topics on offer. Topics include Chinese economic performance since 1500: facts and data; Financing the rise of popular schooling in the developed and developing worlds; The path to modernization: the history and thought of Chinese money and finance; Buying and selling children: the ethics and economics of child displacement in global and historical perspective; New African economic history: approaches to long term African economic development; Fashion and economic development: exploring cultures, commodities and commerce, 1700-2000; Post, telegraph and telephone and the economic impact of their rise; From guild marks to the Made in …: marks of origin and country branding the global economy (15th-20th centuries); and Monetary dynamics in the Medieval Islamic world. The full list of sessions is available on the congress website: http://www.wehc012.org/