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Professor Gareth Austin


After teaching at a harambee school in Kenya, Gareth Austin read History at Cambridge and proceeded to the PhD Economic History at Birmingham. He has worked at the University of Birmingham, the University of Ghana, the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (University of London), and the London School of Economics (economic history department), and the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. He took up the professorship of Economic History at Cambridge on 1 January 2016, dividing his time between Cambridge and Geneva until becoming full-time in Cambridge on 1 September 2016. He gave his inaugural lecture in October 2018. Austin is a former editor of the Journal of African History, a former president of the European Network in Universal and Global History, and was a founder of the Journal of Global History.

Subject groups/Research projects

Economic, Social and Cultural History:
World History:

African, comparative and global history

Research Interests

African, comparative and global economic history. My primary research continues to focus on Ghana and other parts of West Africa, mainly nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I am currently finishing a book provisionally entitled Markets, Slavery and States in West African History.

Research Supervision

I am happy to consider requests to supervise dissertations in almost all aspects of the economic history (broadly defined) of Sub-Saharan Africa. I have also co-supervised PhD dissertations in various aspects of Asian (and now also Latin American) economic history, combining my disciplinary specialisation in economic history with a colleague’s area expertise. At the moment I have seven PhD students. We meet, with other graduate students and colleagues, in regular specialist seminars (African Economic History Seminar in the Lent term, Global Economic History Seminar in the Easter term) and an informal discussion group.


In the academic year 2019-20 I will offer three sole-taught papers. Two are options for the M.Phil. Economic and Social History (students on other MPhils, notably World History, are also welcome): Late Development: The Uneven Spread of Industrialization in Asia, Africa and Latin America (Michaelmas term) and a new paper, African Economic History (Lent term). The other is a Themes & Sources option for the BA History, Part I, Wealth and Poverty in West Africa from the Slave Trades to the Present. I will also contribute lectures to several other BA papers, and classes to other M.Phil. papers.

Other Professional Activities

I am on several editorial advisory boards, including Cambridge Studies in Economic History (Cambridge University Press), the Brill book series in Global Economic History, the Economic History Review, the journal African Economic History, the Historical Journal, the Journal of Global History, and Monde(s): histoire espaces relations.


  • Economic, Social History
  • Global History


Key Publications

  • Editor, Economic Development and Environmental History in the Anthropocene: Perspectives on Asia and Africa (London: Bloomsbury Academic, published 19 October 2017).
  • Labour, Land and Capital in Ghana: From Slavery to Free Labour in Asante, 1807-1956 (University of Rochester Press: Rochester, NY, USA; Boydell & Brewer, UK, 2005; paperback 2008).
  • Co-editor with Kaoru Sugihara, Labour-Intensive Industrialization in Global History (London: Routledge, 2013).
  • Guest editor, with Stephen Broadberry, The Renaissance of African Economic History, special issue of the Economic History Review, 67: 4 (2014).
  • 'Sub-Saharan Africa’ in Joerg Baten (ed.), A History of the Global Economy from 1500 to the Present (Cambridge University Press, 2016), pp. 316-50.
  • ‘Vent for surplus or productivity breakthrough? The Ghanaian cocoa take-off, c.1890-1936’, Economic History Review, 67:4 (2014), pp. 1035-64.
  • ‘Cash crops and freedom: export agriculture and the decline of slavery in colonial West Africa’, International Review of Social History 54:1 (2009), pp. 1-37.
  • ‘The “reversal of fortune” thesis and the compression of history: perspectives from African and comparative economic history’, Journal of International Development 20:8 (2008), pp. 996-1027.
  • ‘Resources, techniques and strategies south of the Sahara: revising the factor endowments perspective on African economic development, 1500-2000’, Economic History Review 61:3 (2008), pp. 587-624.
  • ‘Reciprocal comparison and African history: tackling conceptual euro-centrism in the study of Africa’s economic past’. African Studies Review 50:3 (2007), pp. 1-28. (Translated into Italian: ‘Oltre l’eurocentrismo. La storia economica dell’Africa e l’approccio comparato’, Passato e presente numero 73, anno XXVI, pp. 65-90).

Other Publications

  • Published in 2017 and 2018:
  • ‘Africa: Economic Change South of the Sahara, since c1500’, in Giorgio Riello and Tirthankar Roy (eds), Economic Change in Global History (London: Bloomsbury Academic), pp. 251-70.
  • 'Global History in (Northwestern) Europe: Explorations and Debates', in Sven Beckert and Dominic Sachsenmaier (eds), Global History, Globally: Research and Practice around the World (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2018), pp.21-44.
  • With Carlos Dávila and Geoffrey Jones, ‘The Alternative Business History: Business in Emerging Markets’, Business History Review, 91:3, (2017), pp. 537-69. 
  • With Ewout Frankema & Morten Jerven, ‘Patterns of Manufacturing Growth in Sub-Saharan Africa: From Colonization to the Present’, in Kevin O’Rourke and Jeffrey G. Williamson (eds), The Spread of Modern Industry to the Poor Periphery Since 1870 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).
  • ‘Slavery in Africa’ in David Eltis, Stanley Engerman, Seymour Drescher and David Richardson (eds), The Cambridge World History of Slavery, volume 4, AD 1804 to AD 2016 (Cambridge University Press, 2017), pp. 174-96.
  • ‘African Business History’, in John F. Wilson, Steven Toms, Abe de Jong and Emily Buchnea (eds), The Routledge Companion to Business History (London, 2017), pp. 141-58.
  • A selection of other recent or fairly recent publications
  • ‘Comment: the Return of Capitalism as a Concept’ in Capitalism: the Reemergence of a Historical Concept, edited by Jürgen Kocka and Marcel van der Linden (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016), pp. 207-34.
  • 'Is Africa too late for "late development"? Gerschenkron south of the Sahara', in Diverse Development Paths and Structural Transformation in the Escape from Poverty, edited by Martin Andersson and Tobias Axelsson (Oxford University Press, 2016), pp. 206-35. 
  • ‘The Economics of Colonialism’, in Célestin Monga and Justin Lin (eds), Oxford Handbook of Africa and Economics (Oxford University Press, 2015), pp. 522-35.
  • 'African Economic History in Africa', Economic History of Developing Regions, 30:1 (2015), pp. 79-94.
  • With Gerardo Serra), ‘West Africa’, in Vincent Barnett (ed.), The Routledge Handbook to Global Economic Thought (London, 2014), pp. 243-56.
  • (With Stephen Broadberry), ‘Introduction: the renaissance of African economic history’,  Economic History Review, 67:4 (2014), pp. 893-906.
  • ‘Explaining and evaluating the cash-crop revolution in the “peasant” colonies of tropical Africa: beyond “vent-for-surplus”’, in Emmanuel Akyeampong, Robert H. Bates, Nathan Nunn and James Robinson (eds), Africa’s Economic Development in Historical Perspective (Cambridge University Press, 2014), pp. 295-320.
  • ‘Commercial agriculture and the ending of slave-trading and slavery in West Africa, 1787-c.1930’, in Robin Law, Suzanne Schwarz and Silke Strickrodt (eds), Commercial Agriculture, the Slave Trade and Slavery in Atlantic Africa (Oxford: James Currey, 2013), pp. 243-65.
  • With Joerg Baten and Bas van Leeuwen, ‘The biological standard of living in early nineteenth-century West Africa: new anthropometic evidence for northern Ghana and Burkina Faso’, Economic History Review 65:4 (2012), pp. 1280-1302.
  • ‘Developmental “paths” and “civilizations” in Africa and Asia: reflections on strategies for integrating cultural and material explanations of differential long-term economic performance’, in Masahiko Aoki, Timur Kuran and Gérard Roland  (eds), Institutions and Comparative Economic Development (Palgrave Macmillan; International Economics Association, 2012), pp. 237-53.
  • ‘Foreword’ to new edition of K. Onwuka Dike, Trade and Politics in the Niger Delta 1830-1885 [first published 1956] (Ibadan: Bookcraft, 2011), pp. vii-xxi.
  • ‘A. G. Hopkins, West Africa, and economic history’, in Toyin Falola and Emily Brownell (eds), Africa, Empire and Globalization: Essays in Honor of A. G. Hopkins (Carolina Academic Press: Durham NC, 2011), pp. 51-80.
  • ‘Poverty and development as themes in British films on the Gold Coast, 1927-1957’, in Lee Grieveson and Colin MacCabe (eds), Film and the End of Empire (Palgrave Macmillan for the British Film Institute: London, 2011), pp. 225-35.
  • ‘The developmental state and labour-intensive industrialization: “late development” re-considered’, Economic History of the Developing Regions, 25:1 (2010), pp. 51-74.
  • ‘Factor Markets in Nieboer Conditions: Early Modern West Africa, c.1500-c.1900’, Continuity and Change, 24: 1 (2009), pp. 23-53.
  • ‘Global history and economic history: a view of the L.S.E. experience in research and graduate teaching’, in Patrick Manning (ed.), Global Practice in World History: Advances Worldwide (Princeton: Markus Weiner, 2008), pp. 99-111.
  • ‘Labour and land in Ghana, 1879-1939: a shifting ratio and an institutional revolution’, Australian Economic History Review (special issue on ‘Factor Prices and the Performance of Less Industrialised Countries), 47:1 (2007), pp. 95-120.
  • With Chibuike Uche, ‘Collusion and competition in colonial economies: banking in British West Africa, 1916-1960’, Business History Review 81 (Spring 2007), pp. 1-26.
  • ‘The political economy of the natural environment in West African history: Asante and its savanna neighbors in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries’, in Richard Kuba and Carola Lentz (eds), Land and the Politics of Belonging in West Africa (Brill Academic Publishers, Leiden, 2006), pp. 187-212.