Prof Gareth Austin

Professor of Economic History
Fellow of King's College
Professor Gareth Austin
My university training was at Cambridge (BA History; Clare College) and Birmingham (PhD, supervised by Professor A. G. Hopkins). My research on African economic history began with an undergraduate dissertation for which I undertook 8 weeks’ archival and oral research in Ghana, and continued – on a different part of the country – with my PhD. Though born in Nigeria (my father was an educational publisher, my mother worked in the administration of University College Ibadan), and despite a career-forming experience teaching in a community school in Kenya before going to university, Ghana became my primary observatory on Africa. I taught at the University of Ghana 1982-85. During the later 1970s and 1980s I travelled widely by public transport around all the countries in West Africa (except Mauretania), and in East and Northeast and West-Central Africa.

I moved to London in 1986, with an ESRC post-doctoral fellowship at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies. In 1988 I began what became 22 years teaching in the Department of Economic History at the London School of Economics. In 2010 I moved to the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, in Geneva, before returning to Cambridge in 2016, taking up the professorship of economic history. While based in Europe, I have continued to visit Africa in most years.

From undergraduate days onwards, I have been particularly interested in both African and comparative economic history, the latter with particular reference to Asia and Latin America. This dual interest is reflected in my teaching, which focuses on comparative and global as well as African economic history. Inspired by Professor Patrick O'Brien, I was an early enthusiast for the renaissance of Global History. Previously an editor of the Journal of African History, I was one of the proposers of the new Journal of Global History (launched in 2006), and served as president of the European Network in Universal and Global History, 2008-12. I have been fortunate to be an academic visitor/guest professor at the University of Cape Town, Kyoto University, Jawaharlal Nehru University, the Graduate Institute (Geneva), Kansai University, Macquarie University, Paris School of Economics, University of Ghana, Universidad de la República (Montevideo), and the University of the Witwatersrand.
(1) Economic history of Sub-Saharan Africa, especially West Africa from c.1500 to the present, including contemporary development issues in historical perspective.
(2) Specialist research: economic history of Ghana, especially the former kingdom of Asante, particularly cocoa farming, rural capitalism, labour, agrarian institutions and indigenous entrepreneurship. Have also done archival research in four other West African countries.
(3) Comparative economic history of Africa, Asia and Latin America.
(4) Global economic and social history, especially economic development, including industrialization, slavery, culture & economic behaviour, and the interaction of economic and environmental change.
(5) The methodology of economic history.
In the academic year 2020-21 I have two sole-taught papers. Both 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' and 'African Economic History'. I also contribute lectures to several BA papers, and classes to other M.Phil. papers. Within King's College I contribute to the teaching of the undergraduate paper Historical Argument and Practice. I supervise undergraduates from King's and other colleges on the Part I 'World History since 1914' paper and the Part II paper on 'African History'.
I am currently Research Director (Projects) for the Faculty of History, Cambridge.
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, and the Journal of Global History.
I am happy to consider requests to supervise dissertations in almost all aspects of the economic history (broadly defined) of Sub-Saharan Africa, from the eighteenth century to the present. I have also co-supervised PhD dissertations in various aspects of Asian and 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 (all terms).
Prospective MPhil students: please note that I am likely to be on leave January-September 2022, and so will not be able to supervise M.Phil. students in 2021-22 academic year.
Prospective PhD students: Cambridge is one of the last universities in the UK to have compulsory retirement based on age. Accordingly, I will be retired from the University (and planning therefore to devote much more time to my own research and writing) after September 2023. I am willing to accept up to two new PhD students starting October 2021, to work with me along with a younger co-supervisor. I envisage that such students would be working specifically on African topics.

Key publications

Labour, Land and Capital in Ghana: From Slavery to Free Labour in Asante, 1807-1956 (University of Rochester Press, 2005).
Economic Development and Environmental History in the Anthropocene: Perspectives on Asia and Africa (Bloomsbury Academic, 2017). Editor and author.
Labour-Intensive Industrialization in Global History (London: Routledge, 2013). Co-editor & author, with Kaoru Sugihara.
The Renaissance of African Economic History, special issue of the Economic History Review, 67:4 (2014). Guest editor, with Stephen Broadberry.
‘The alternative business history: business in emerging markets’, Business History Review, 91:3 (2017), pp. 537-69. With Carlos Dávila & Geoffrey Jones.
‘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 2017), pp. 174-96.
‘Patterns of manufacturing growth in Sub-Saharan Africa: from colonization to the present’ (With Ewout Frankema & Morten Jerven), in Kevin O’Rourke & Jeffrey G. Williamson (eds), The Spread of Modern Industry to the Poor Periphery Since 1870 (Oxford 2017), pp. 345-73.
'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.
‘The economics of colonialism’, in Célestin Monga and Justin Lin (eds), Oxford Handbook of Africa and Economics (2015), pp. 522-35.
‘Vent for surplus or productivity breakthrough? The Ghanaian cocoa take-off, c.1890-1936’, Economic History Review, 67:4 (2014), pp. 1035-64.
‘Capitalism and the colonies’, in Jeffrey G. Williamson & Larry Neal (eds), The Cambridge History of Capitalism, vol. II, The Spread of Capitalism: from 1848 to the Present (2014), pp. 301-47.
‘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.
“No elders were present”: commoners and private ownership in Asante, 1807-1896’, Journal of African History, 37:1 (1996), pp. 1-30.

Other publications

‘Capitalists and labour in Africa’, in Stefano Bellucci & Andreas Eckert (eds), General Labour History of Africa (Woodbridge/ILO, 2019), pp. 425-56.
‘Africa: economic change south of the Sahara, since c1500’, in Giorgio Riello & Tirthankar Roy (eds), Economic Change in Global History (Bloomsbury, 2018), pp. 251-70.
'Global history in (Northwestern) Europe: explorations and debates', in Sven Beckert & Dominic Sachsenmaier (eds), Global History, Globally: Research and Practice around the World (Bloomsbury, 2018), pp.21-44.
‘African business history’, in John F. Wilson, Steven Toms, Abe de Jong & Emily Buchnea (eds), The Routledge Companion to Business History (London, 2017), pp. 141-58.
‘Comment: the return of capitalism as a concept’ in Capitalism: the Reemergence of a Historical Concept, edited by Jürgen Kocka & Marcel van der Linden (Bloomsbury 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 & Tobias Axelsson (Oxford 2016), pp. 206-35.
‘African economic history in Africa’, Economic History of Developing Regions, 30:1 (2015), pp. 79-94.
‘West Africa’, in Vincent Barnett (ed.), The Routledge Handbook to Global Economic Thought (London 2014), pp. 243-56. With Gerardo Serra.
‘Introduction: the renaissance of African economic history’, Economic History Review, 67:4 (2014), pp. 893-906. With Stephen Broadberry.
‘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 & James Robinson (eds), Africa’s Economic Development in Historical Perspective (Cambridge 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 & Silke Strickrodt (eds), Commercial Agriculture, the Slave Trade and Slavery in Atlantic Africa (Oxford 2013), pp. 243-65.
‘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. With Joerg Baten & Bas van Leeuwen.
‘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 2012), pp. 237-53.
‘A. G. Hopkins, West Africa, and economic history’, in Toyin Falola and Emily Brownell (eds), Africa, Empire and Globalization (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, 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.
‘African Economic Development and Colonial Legacies’, International Development Policy 1 (2010), pp. 11-32.
‘The State as Help or Hindrance to Market-led Economic Growth: West Africa in the era of “Legitimate Commerce”’, in Toyin Falola & Matt D. Childs (eds), The Changing Worlds of Atlantic Africa (Durham NC 2009), pp. 145-62.
‘Factor Markets in Nieboer Conditions: Early Modern West Africa, c.1500-c.1900’, Continuity and Change, 24: 1 (2009), pp. 23-53.
‘Collusion and Competition in Colonial Economies: Banking in British West Africa, 1916-1960’, Business History Review 81 (2007), pp.1-26. With Chibuike Uche.
‘Labour and Land in Ghana, 1879-1939: A Shifting Ratio and an Institutional Revolution’, Australian Economic History Review, 47:1 (2007), pp. 95-120.
‘Human Pawning in Asante 1800-1950: Markets and Coercion, Gender and Cocoa’ (originally published 1994), reprinted in Paul E. Lovejoy & Toyin Falola (eds), Pawnship, Slavery, and Colonialism in Africa (Trenton NJ, 2003), pp. 187-224.
‘African Business in Nineteenth-Century West Africa’, in Alusine Jalloh & Toyin Falola (eds), Black Business and Economic Power (Rochester NY, 2002), pp. 152-99.
‘Introduction’ to Classics in African Anthropology edition of Polly Hill’s Migrant Cocoa-
Farmers of Southern Ghana (Oxford, 1997), pp. ix-xxviii.
‘Mode of Production or Mode of Cultivation: Explaining the Failure of European Cocoa Planters in Competition with African Farmers in Colonial Ghana’, in W. G. Clarence-Smith (ed), Cocoa Pioneer Fronts: the Role of Smallholders, Planters and Merchants (Macmillan, 1996), pp. 154-75.
‘National Poverty and the “Vampire State” in Ghana: A Review Article’, Journal of International Development, 8:4 (1996), pp. 553-73.
‘Between Abolition and Jihad: the Asante Response to the Ending of the Atlantic Slave Trade, 1807-1896’, in Robin Law (ed.), From Slave Trade to ‘Legitimate’ Commerce: The Commercial Transition in Nineteenth-Century West Africa (Cambridge, 1995), pp. 93-118.
‘Indigenous Credit Institutions in West Africa, c.1750-c.1960’, in Gareth Austin & Kaoru Sugihara (eds), Local Suppliers of Credit in the Third World, 1750-1960 (Macmillan, 1993), pp. 93-159.
‘Chiefs and Capitalists in the Cocoa Hold-ups in South Asante, 1927-1938’, International Journal of African Historical Studies, 21:1 (1988), pp. 63-95.