Call for Dissertations - Competition


Students who have completed their dissertations between June 2017 and August 2021 are encouraged to submit their theses for the dissertation panel/competition.

Dissertation will be shortlisted and considered for awards in three separate categories: ancient/Medieval/Early Modern period; 19th century; and 20th century. The three finalists in each category will be invited to present their work in the dissertation panel. Theses written in languages other than English will also be considered, although the abstract needs to be in English.

The IEHA gratefully acknowledges the generous support of Cambridge University Press in supplementing the Dissertation prizes with gift books from their extensive economic history catalog to prize winners and finalists.


More information: Program


20th 21th century

Deindiustrialization in East Africa: Textile

Katharine Frederick - Utrecht University

The development of domestic cotton textile industries has served as a springboard to broader industrial and economic development in a number of world regions, from eighteenth-century England to twentieth-century East Asia. However, while sub-Saharan Africa has historically engaged in cotton textile production, these handicraft industries did not ultimately generate the kind of mechanized industrial expansion and development experienced in Europe and Asia. Rather, many of the region's domestic cloth industries fell into rapid decline by the early twentieth century, particularly in much of East Africa. The central question of this thesis is when and why did handicraft cloth industries in East Africa decline? To uncover the causes of industrial arrest, this study examines cases of deindustrialization in southern and central East Africa and then considers these findings in light of existing studies of comparatively more resilient textile industries in northern East and West Africa. Scholars have generally pointed to forces of globalization as the drivers of industrial decline, placing particular emphasis on purportedly devastating competition from machine-made imported cloth as regions like East Africa increasingly integrated into the global trading system. I argue, however, that undue weight has been placed on the overriding power of global forces to determine local production outcomes. Rather, the causes of deindustrialization lie with local structural factors that interacted with time-dependent external forces to diminish industrial production possibilities. The first substantive chapter (Chapter 2) explores the causes of industrial decline in nineteenth-century southern Malawi, where a rapid shift in the ratio of land to labor incentivized villagers to abandon highly labor-intensive cloth production in favor of cash-crop cultivation even before imported cloth became readily available. Chapter 3 turns attention to the central East Africa coast, where cloth production persisted along the coastline even as imports increased dramatically. Chapter 4 tracks nineteenth-century imports into interior Tanzania and illustrate that high transportation and transaction costs limited the amount of cloth entering the deep interior, where it was used as a valuable commodity currency. The impact of cloth imports on interior textile industries was consequently much more limited than the competition-based deindustrialization historiography has suggested. Chapter 5 examines industrial decline in southwestern Tanzania, where cloth production continued to thrive through the late nineteenth century, even after cloth imports became increasingly available. The domestic industry would only begin to decline during the early twentieth century, with the imposition of German colonial fiscal policies that precipitated an exodus from the region. Chapter 6 places the case studies of deindustrialization in Malawi and Tanzania in comparative perspective and examines why industries tended to decline in southern and central East Africa while cloth production persisted in much of northern East and West Africa – where per-capita cloth imports were significantly higher – well into the twentieth century. Comparative analysis reveals that resilient industries tended to persist in areas with dense populations, large regional markets, centralized states, and endowments that favored income-enhancing cash-crop cultivation. Defended 22 May 2018, Wageningen University


The Impact of Innovation, Regulation and Market Power on Economic Development: Evidence from the American West

Jingyi Huang - University of California, Los Angeles / Harvard University, Center for History and Economics

This dissertation analyzes how technological and institutional changes influence economic development. Chapter 1 quantifies the long-term effect of refrigeration on agricultural production. Mechanical refrigeration greatly reduced transportation costs for perishable products but not non-perishable products. I leverage this differential effect to identify the effect of technological change on agricultural production with an event-study design. Results show that a one percentile increase in relative suitability of fodder versus wheat production leads to more land area being developed as farmland, higher values of total farm output, and higher land values. The effects were driven primarily by the top two quartiles of counties in terms of fodder versus wheat suitability, and most effects persisted until 1960. Chapter 2 focuses on how the new refrigeration technology influenced market power in the meatpacking industry. Refrigeration created a highly concentrated meatpacking industry due to the capital-intensive production process. By the early twentieth century, five firms dominated the cattle wholesale market. They formed a cartel to collude and manipulate the market. Because cattlemen's shipment decisions precede spot market sales, the cartel manipulated current prices to alter future supply to achieve higher collusive profits. The analyses leverage exogenous regulatory changes that forced the cartel to switch from a dynamic to a static strategy. I develop and estimate a structural model of the wholesale cattle market under the static strategy. I then quantify the effect of dynamic cartel manipulation by comparing the empirical market outcomes under manipulation with counterfactuals suggested by the static model. I find that dynamic manipulation harmed cattle sellers by enabling the cartel to buy fewer cattle at low prices than it would have under a static model. The manipulation strategy also harmed downstream consumers by increasing beef prices and thus total household food expenditures. Chapter 3 uses the historical evolution of fence laws to examine the impact of liability rules on economic development. Fence laws assigned the liability for livestock trespassing to either farmers or ranchers. I use newly compiled data on the evolution of county-level fence laws to analyze the causal relationship between liability rules and land allocation, production decisions, and agricultural productivity. Results show that by making livestock owners liable for trespassing, the fence-in rule increased farmland development, corn cultivation acreage and yield, and the total value of farm output. I conclude that, with substantial transaction costs, legal institutions that govern liability rules and property rights can have large and persistent effects on economic development.


A Problem of Industries and Regions: Unemployment and Structural Change in Britain during the Interwar Years and 1980s

Meredith Paker - University of Oxford

The most serious employment crises in twentieth-century Britain occurred during the interwar years and the early 1980s, when, in both cases, the unemployment rate climbed to over 10% in aggregate and remained high for many years. Both downturns also coincided with periods of structural change in the economy: in the interwar years, export-oriented heavy industries lost out to newer light manufacturing industries, and, during the early 1980s, the decline of manufacturing accelerated as the economy pivoted toward service industries and finance. A large literature on these recessions has dealt with aggregate demand fluctuations and supply factors, but this mainly macroeconomic focus has limited our understanding of the impacts of structural change. This thesis investigates the interaction of structural change and the business cycle in both the crises using newly-digitized industry microdata and econometric methods. How did structural change affect these employment downturns, and what were the consequences for workers and the labor market? I find that in both periods, secular structural change contributed significantly to, and was amplified by, the cyclical downturn. This interaction caused the impact of the interwar and early 1980s recessions to vary across industries, regions, gender, and demographic groups, with some workers experiencing persistent disadvantage. Chapter I reviews how structural and cyclical unemployment were understood by economists in a pre-Keynesian setting. Chapter II analyzes interwar unemployment with novel data, finding that structurally-disadvantaged industries had higher unemployment and that the labor market was more flexible for some workers than others. On the early 1980s, Chapter III argues that structural change caused a jobless recovery from the 1980-1981 recession. Finally, Chapter IV uses individual-level data to demonstrate that this recession disproportionately affected workers from particular industries, regions, and demographic groups


Long 19th century

Cliometric essays on migration to the United States

David Escamilla-Guerrero

There is a lack of cliometric literature addressing the characteristics of Mexican migration during the Age of Mass migration (1850–1914). To fill this void, I analyze an original data set—the Mexican Border Crossing Records (MBCRs) publication N° A3365—to disentangle the initial mechanics of Mexican migration in the early twentieth century. I first offer a historical overview of the Mexican-American migration in Chapter 1. In Chapter 2, I introduce these novel micro data that record individual characteristics of migrants that crossed the Mexico-US border from 1906 to 1908. In Chapter 3, I address the initial determinants of the Mexican-American migration stream. I use the migrant's location of last residence and final destination to identify migration corridors at the local level (migration streams between Mexican municipalities and US counties). In addition, I provide a quantitative assessment of the push and pull factors that may explain differences in migration intensity across corridors. These factors include the US-Mexico wage gap, market potentials, living standards, and access to railways. In Chapter 4, I use the migrant's height—a proxy for physical productivity of labor—to quantify the selectivity of Mexican migration. In addition, I exploit the Panic of 1907 as a natural experiment of history to study the speed that migrant self-selection adjusts to economic factors. This financial crisis provides me with exogenous variation in height to evaluate if unexpected shocks affecting the demand of immigrant workers can induce short-run changes in migrant self-selection. To explain shifts in selection patterns, I focus on labor institutions as a mechanism of adjustment. Specifically, I study the enganche, a system of labor recruiting that neutralized mobility and job-search costs. In Chapter 5, I exploit the reported locations of birth, last residence, and destination to classify migrants based on their chosen migration method: direct or stage migration. The micro data reveal that forty percent of the migrants moved within Mexico before crossing the border. I estimate correlations between stage migration and potential wage at the destination controlling for the immigrants' age, literacy, sex, marital status, and birthplace. In Chapter 6, I offer some concluding remarks. My findings expand our knowledge about the initial patterns of Mexican migration using micro data not analyzed previously. They show that in the early twentieth century, the decision to migrate was a function of diverse forces, which effects and magnitudes varied across Mexican regions. Also, Mexican migration was characterized by an intermediate or positive selection and labor institutions involved in the migration process shaped migrant self-selection. Finally, Mexicans used stage migration to reach the US border, and it was associated with a significant wage premium at the destination.


Fluctuations in the United Kingdom, 1750-1938

Jason Lennard - London School of Economics / CEPR

What caused fluctuations in the first industrial economy? I studied this important question in my dissertation, which was defended at the Department of Economic History at Lund University on 1 June 2018. My supervisors were Professor Anders Ögren, Dr Fredrik N G Andersson, and Professor Kerstin Enflo. The external examiner was Professor Rui Esteves of the Graduate Institute Geneva. The thesis was ranked as the best dissertation completed at the Department of Economic History in 2017/8, won the Lund Scientific Society's prize for ‘meritorious dissertations' in humanities and social sciences, was awarded a Wallander Post-doctoral Fellowship by Handelsbanken, and was shortlisted for the Economic History Society's Thirsk-Feinstein dissertation prize. The five chapters of the dissertation have been published as five articles in leading journals in economic history. Chapter 1 was published in the Economic History Review, chapter 2 in the European Review of Economic History, chapter 3 in Explorations in Economic History, chapter 4 in the Economic History Review, and chapter 5 in Explorations in Economic History. The dissertation has been summarised in the Scandinavian Economic History Review. The first part of the dissertation studies the micro origins of economic fluctuations by focusing on regional variation and its aggregate implications. Chapter 1 constructs estimates of the money supply in Ireland between 1840 and 1921. Chapter 2 develops annual estimates of real gross domestic product in Ireland between 1842 and 1913 using an original econometric methodology. The second part of the dissertation studies the macro origins of economic fluctuations using the narrative record to identify the causal effect of macroeconomic shocks. Chapter 3 examines how monetary policy affected the economy during the classical gold standard. Chapter 4 analyses the impact of economic policy uncertainty in the interwar period. Chapter 5 measures the macroeconomic effects of banking crises between 1750 and 1938. Using novel econometric methods and new data, I find that modern drivers of the business cycle, such as shocks to regions, monetary policy, uncertainty, and banking crises, were important perturbations between the Industrial Revolution and the Second World War. A major contribution is new data. I constructed monthly and annual estimates of the narrow and broad money supplies in Ireland between 1840 and 1921; annual GDP for Ireland between 1842 and 1913; a real-time, meeting-by-meeting data set of the information available to the Court of Directors of the Bank of England between 1890 and 1913; a monthly index of economic policy uncertainty, as well as monthly time series of government expenditure, revenue, and debt, for interwar Britain; and a new annual chronology of banking crises in the United Kingdom between 1750 and 1938. This data has been collected from an array of archives, such as the Bank of England, the National Archives and various banks across the United Kingdom, and contemporary publications, including the Economist, Financial Times, and Parliamentary Papers. This data will be valuable to economic historians in the future.


The occupational structure of late Imperial China, 1736-1898

Cheng Yang - Cambridge Group for the History of Population and Social Structures / Faculty of History, University of Cambridge / Institute of China's Economic Reform and Development and School of Economics, Renmin University of China

By producing a new estimate of Chinese gendered occupational structure during 1734-1898 by sectors, sub-sector patterns and regions using a challenging, underused but abundant historical source (the Xingke Tiben, a collection of trial papers for all homicides in China, 1734-1898), this thesis provide rich, new evidence about the nature of economic development of China and its regions at that time and the great divergence. After assessing the source's biases, using this new empirical basis, this thesis demonstrates that: The national male occupational structure was nearly identical in 1761-70, 1821-30, and 1881-90, suggesting a long-lasting structural stasis of the national economy, allowing for fluctuations between benchmark dates. The secondary-sector labour force appears to have remained small by the standards of later industrialised nations. The tertiary-sector labour force was large, but a considerable amount of surplus labour existed within the sector, earning only a subsistence-level income, hardly higher than agricultural labourers' average income. More tentatively (due to smaller female sample size), China's female secondary-sector employment plummeted after 1840 due to the dominance of machine-spun British cotton yarn imports. If this finding can be sustained with a larger sample, then China's opening to the West had much great negative repercussions for women than men. Within agriculture, substantial regional differences in labour organisation are evidenced. Three distinct models are found: Northern Regions features a high usage of wage labour, Yangtze Valley presents a high level of tenancy development, and Southern Regions displays highest share of landowners. All three models saw increasing use of wage labour in 1761-1890 and shrinking landownership in 1821-1890. At the regional level, the estimated 1734-1898 long-run male occupational structure of the Lower Yangtze suggests that the region as a whole most probably stagnated throughout the entire period. However, the overall structural stasis of the region hides dynamic, contrasting long-run economic change between the region's core (TLA) and peripheral areas (extra-TLA). These two areas gradually converged into a highly integrated Lower Yangtze in the long period leading to 1850 but then rapidly diverged from one another; thereafter, the much smaller area around the Taihu Lake – not the whole of the Lower Yangtze - became the first industrialised region in China – and remains the most developed to this day. Finally, by comparing these new estimates in the wider Eurasia context, this thesis has further demonstrated, that the timing of the Great Divergence between China and England took place before 1734, even allowing for regional difference; beyond England, the occupational structures of France and China were very similar down to the early nineteenth century, and, and well into the nineteenth century if the regional difference is considered; in wider Eurasia, China and its regions were advanced, sophisticated and unique by the standards of the day. (please see the following graphs) Beyond the scope of this thesis, more work on the gendered perspective and the trajectory before 1734 is clearly needed and will be pursued in my future research.


Ancient Medieval Early Modern

A Micro-Demographic Analysis of Human Fertility from Chinese Genealogies, 1368-1911

Sijie Hu - Renmin University of China

This thesis is a micro-demographic analysis of human fertility from Chinese genealogies in the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. It exploits a new genealogical dataset comprising 72,861 individuals from six lineages to account for the fertility decisions taken in Chinese families. Following the comprehensive micro-level analyses of a small population, the thesis demonstrates the main features at an individual level of the fertility patterns and the relationships between demographic outcomes and social outcomes in imperial China. This thesis consists of three substantive chapters. The first constructs the marital fertility levels and provides the ongoing debate with quantitative evidence on whether the Chinese consciously practised fertility controls in the pre-modern era. The second substantive chapter shows the social gradients in fertility and examines the mechanisms through which social status affected fertility. The third expands the reproductive success story of a single generation into a multi-generational one, focusing on the process of transmitting fertility choices across generations and the effects of family size on the quality of the children. The three chapters together exhibit the micro-demographic dynamics in Chinese families from the fourteenth to the twentieth centuries. The thesis shows that Ming-Qing China had a moderate fertility level, with no deliberate fertility controls. Throughout the entire period, climbing up the social ladder could significantly increase men's net reproduction through increasing their marriage chances and the number of marriages they could have. Moreover, elites in traditional China also managed to transmit reproductive success to their offspring, mainly by passing on their high social outcomes. Family size could also affect the quality of the offspring, but the effect was not powerful enough to bring about any change in parents' fertility choices. In sum, the thesis contributes to the prior literature from two main perspectives. First, it showcases a new individual-level dataset that has great potential for research in Chinese economic history and demography. Second, this systematic research deepens our understanding of China's demography by re-addressing traditional questions and by investigating frontier issues so as to shed light on the view of economic growth in Ming-Qing China.


Boston, New York, and Philadelphia

Jeremy Land - University of Helsinki

This dissertation explores the dynamics of the maritime trade of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia during 1700-1775. Through a comparative analysis of these cities' intra-imperial and trans-imperial trade, it seeks to understand the nature and significance of British imperial presence for the region's commercial economy. Drawing on the existing literature, this study contributes to the historiography of British colonial North America in two major ways. First, it examines each of the three port complexes, to which Boston, New York, and Philadelphia served as the chief ports, and then treats them as parts of one large complex playing the role of a nodal center in the British imperial and global trade. It illuminates how each of the three port cities related with the other in a dynamic relationship of complementarity and competition. Second, this study moves away from the framework that examines the economy of this region primarily through exchange of goods and capital between the colonies and the metropolis. This research, while paying adequate attention to the scale and importance of colonial trade, underscores the significance of trans-imperial trade networks, which connected these colonial port cities with non-British ports on both American and European shores of the Atlantic Ocean. It shows that the region was economically less oriented towards Britain than to the rest of the world, which was a constant source of tension between the colony and metropole. Further, the British Empire through inadequacy or inaction consistently failed to provide enough specie, consumers, and capital for merchants, forcing them to look for markets beyond the British Empire to find consumers for their goods. As Boston, New York, and Philadelphia carried out a substantial trade with ports and places outside of the British Empire, colonial merchants in these cities resisted any mercantilist policies of the British Empire that sought to restrict access to global markets. Their resistance, either by circumventing the imperial policies or disregarding them altogether, continued throughout the 18th century and culminated in the war for independence between the fledgling United States and the British Empire. In addition, this study explores trade networks and mechanisms, which enabled merchants to navigate the political and economic challenges during this period.


Consumer behaviour and material living standards in a transition economy: Venice (ca. 1650-1800)

Mattia Viale - Bocconi University

According to some scholars, during the eighteenth century there was a radical transformation in lifestyle and of the dynamics of purchase and demand for goods. This significant change in private consumption patterns, the so-called consumer revolution, was one of the fundamental premises for the subsequent economic and industrial development. Today, it is believed that most of the early modern economies underwent some kind of consumer revolution. However, the empirical evidence to support this theory is almost exclusively based on the rich and advanced economies from the North-Atlantic areas, such as England and the Low Countries. Few quantitative studies exist that address material living standards through changes in consumption patterns in European regions that only experienced industrial and economic development later. Therefore, numerous questions about these regions remain unanswered. What were the variations in the acquisition and consumption strategies in these areas? Was the process similar to that found in Northern Europe? What elements of a consumer society can be identified in these regions? This study aims to fill this gap in knowledge by analysing the material well-being of one of the most important and populous centres of Southern Europe: Venice between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This research uses a wide body of empirical evidence, mainly unpublished documentation maintained at the Venetian State Archive. The principal source of this research is the household budgets preserved in the archive of the Giudici di Petizion judiciary. These documents were produced by curators and trustees charged, in case of the death of the householder, to manage the family assets if there were minors or infirm family members to protect. These sources allow us to follow, often for years, the full account of a household's bookkeeping, through descriptions of the flows of incomes and expenses. Through these documents, we can go beyond the study of material living standards by analysing the behaviour of consumers and the evolution of consumer strategies over time. A reconstruction of the evolution of consumption dynamics between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is performed through qualitative and quantitative analysis. To better appreciate continuities and changes, three decades have been chosen as the sample for analysis: the 1670s, the 1720s and the 1770s. The results reveal how behind the apparent rigidity in consumption that we can trace, there were an extreme variety of consumer practices. Venetian consumer society appears, in fact, to have been especially articulated, faceted and segmented, and every actor behaved according to his or her unique set of preferences and desires. Therefore, we show how the logics of consumption do not respond to the logics of subsistence that for a long time have been hypothesised for the preindustrial period; rather, the logics of consumption were driven by a non-uniform and flexible consumption culture. We argue that the modernity of Venetian consumption did not lie in a general shift in consumer behaviour from a particular set of goods to another, as believed to have occurred with the consumer revolution, but in the high degree of flexibility in consumption patterns.