Prof Gareth Austin

Director of Research
Emeritus Professor of Economic History (1928)
Bye-Fellow of King's College
Professor Gareth Austin
I reached 67 in May 2023. Under Cambridge rules, I therefore retired as a University Teaching Officer, and thus from the Professorship of Economic History (1928), on 30 September 2023. However, I have accepted the offer of appointment by the University as a Director of Research for the duration of the AHRC-DFG project, 'Where Have All the Workers Gone? Labour and Work in Ghana, 1951-2010', on which I am the UK (Cambridge) Principal Investigator. That means until 31 December 2024. Please see our website (designed by Igor Martins):  I will also continue in King's College (Cambridge) in 2023 and 2024, as a bye-fellow, supervising and lecturing mainly on the first-year outline paper 'The Global South since 1750'.  I intend to take full advantage of retirement from administration and (most) teaching as a great opportunity to devote much more time to my own research and writing. I am not taking on new PhD students but will continue to supervise my remaining ones until they complete.
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.
I have found Cambridge a great place to teach, and to pursue my research, working with wonderful graduate students and colleagues. In 2018 Bronwen Everill and I launched what seems to be the world's first regular seminar dedicated to African Economic History (Lent term), as well as one on Global Economic History (Easter term), and we will continue both in 2024.
(1) Economic history of Sub-Saharan Africa, especially West Africa from c.1500 to the present, including contemporary development issues in historical perspective. Principal current projects: finishing one book, Markets, Slavery and the State in West Africa since c.1500; after which I will write another: a short introduction to African economic history. In parallel, I am working with others on two international projects: a comparative history of occupational structures across Africa (AFCHOS, with Leigh Shaw-Taylor and others; and a volume on the transition from commodity currencies to colonial currencies in West Africa, which is inspired by Toyomu Masaki.
(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. Current projects: several papers on Ghana, especially since independence. Two papers-in-progress are comparative: South Africa and British West Africa, from the 17th to 20th centuries; and the causes and consequences of 'structural adjustment' in 1980s Ghana and Kenya.
(3) Comparative economic history of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Current projects: for the next few years, I am pursuing this mainlhy within the framework of global economic history ...
(4) Global economic history in the broadest sense, especially economic development, including industrialization, slavery, culture & economic behaviour, and the interaction of economic and environmental change. Long-run project: a group of us are gradually making progress towards a a co-written global history offering an economic approach to environmental history and an environmental approach to economic history.
(5) The methodology and history of economic history. Principal current project: a paper titled 'Three Revolutions in Economic History'.
Given the size of this research agenda, retirement has a lot to offer!
As I retired as a University Teaching Officer at the end of the 2022-23 academic year (having reached mandatory retirement age), my teaching in 2023-24 will be restricted largely to the Part 1A Outline paper 10, 'The Global South since 1750', on which I will give 4 lectures and also supervise. I will also give one lecture on Outline 5, and one on the M.St. Global History programme.
Editorial and association boards: I serve on the board of the African Economic History Network, and on several editorial advisory boards, including Cambridge Studies in Economic History (Cambridge University Press), the Economic History Review, the journal African Economic History, and the Journal of Global History.
Consultancy: I have done occasional consultancies for, among others, the World Bank (1990, 1996, 1999) and more recently Oxford Analytica (2014); Institute of Economic Affairs Ghana (2017) and the UN Economic Commission for Africa (2017).
I will see my remaining PhD students through to completion, but because of my official retirement (though not from my own research!) I am not taking on new graduate students. 

Key publications

Latest: ‘Ghana and Kenya Facing the 1970s Commodity Price Shocks: the National and the Global’, in Shigeru Akita (ed.), Oil Crises of the 1970s and the Transformation of International Order: Economy, Development and Aid in Asia and Africa (London: Bloomsbury, November 2023), pp. 223-56.
1.Labour, Land and Capital in Ghana: From Slavery to Free Labour in Asante, 1807-1956 (University of Rochester Press, 2005).
2.Economic Development and Environmental History in the Anthropocene: Perspectives on Asia and Africa (Bloomsbury Academic, 2017). Editor and author.
3.Labour-Intensive Industrialization in Global History (Routledge, 2013). Co-editor & author, with Kaoru Sugihara.
4.'The renaissance of African economic history', special issue of the Economic History Review, 67:4 (2014). Guest editor, with Stephen Broadberry.
5. ‘Migration in the Contexts of Slaving and States in 19th-Century West Africa’, in Michiel de Haas and Ewout Frankema (eds), Migration in Africa: Shifting Patterns of Mobility from the 19th to the 21st Centuries (London: Routledge, 2022), pp. 37-55.
6.‘“More and more one cog in the world economic machine”: globalization, development, and African agency in British West Africa’, in J.E. Inikori (ed.), British Imperialism and Globalization: Essays in Honor of Patrick K. O’Brien (Rochester NY: Boydell & Brewer, 2022), pp. 135-69.
7.‘Capitalists and Labour in Africa’, in S. Bellucci & A. Eckert (eds), General Labour History of Africa: Workers, Employers and Governments 20th-21st Centuries (James Currey and the ILO, 2019), pp. 425-56.
8.‘Africa: economic change south of the Sahara, since c1500’, in Giorgio Riello and Tirthankar Roy (eds), Economic Change in Global History (London: Bloomsbury, 2018), pp. 251-70. 
9.‘The alternative business history: business in emerging markets’, Business History Review, 91:3 (2017), pp. 537-69. With Carlos Dávila & Geoffrey Jones.
10.‘Patterns of manufacturing growth in Sub-Saharan Africa: from colonization to the present’ (With Ewout Frankema & Morten Jerven), in K. O’Rourke & J.G. Williamson (eds), The Spread of Modern Industry to the Poor Periphery Since 1870 (Oxford 2017), pp. 345-73.
11.'Africa and the Anthropocene’, in G. Austin (ed.), Economic Development and Environmental History in the Anthropocene: Perspectives on Asia and Africa (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017), pp. 95-118.
12.‘The economics of colonialism’, in C. Monga & J. Lin (eds), Oxford Handbook of Africa and Economics (2015), 522-35.
13.‘Vent for surplus or productivity breakthrough? The Ghanaian cocoa take-off, c.1890-1936’, Economic History Review, 67:4 (2014), pp. 1035-64.
14.‘Labour-intensity and manufacturing in West Africa, c.1450-c.2000’, in Austin & Sugihara (eds), Labour-Intensive Industrialization in Global History (2013), pp. 201-30.    
15.‘Labour-intensive industrialization and global economic development: reflections’,  in Austin & Sugihara (eds), Labour-Intensive Industrialization in Global History (2013), pp. 280-302.
16.‘Capitalism and the colonies’, in J.G. Williamson & L. Neal (eds), The Cambridge History of Capitalism, vol. II, The Spread of Capitalism: from 1848 to the Present (2014), pp. 301-47.
17.'African economic development and colonial legacies’, International Development Policy 1 (2010), pp. 11-32.
18.‘Factor Markets in Nieboer conditions: early modern West Africa, c.1500-c.1900’, Continuity and Change, 24:1 (2009), pp. 23-53.
19. ‘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.
20.‘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.
21.‘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.
22.‘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.
23.“No elders were present”: commoners and private ownership in Asante, 1807-1896’, Journal of African History, 37:1 (1996), pp. 1-30.

Other publications

More publications
1.'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.
2.‘Introduction’ to G. Austin (ed.), Economic Development and Environmental History in the Anthropocene: Perspectives on Asia and Africa (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017), pp. 1-22.
3.‘Slavery in Africa’ in David Eltis, Stanley Engerman, Seymour Drescher and David Richardson (eds), The Cambridge World History of Slavery, vol. 4, AD 1804 to AD 2016 (Cambridge University Press, 2017), pp. 174-96.
4.‘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.
5.‘Comment: the return of capitalism as a concept’ in Capitalism: the Reemergence of a Historical Concept, ed. Jürgen Kocka & Marcel van der Linden (Bloomsbury 2016), pp. 207-34.
6.‘Is Africa too late for “late development”? Gerschenkron south of the Sahara’, in Diverse Development Paths and Structural Transformation in the Escape from Poverty, ed. Martin Andersson & Tobias Axelsson (Oxford 2016), pp. 206-35.
7.‘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.
8.‘African economic history in Africa’, Economic History of Developing Regions, 30:1 (2015), pp. 79-94.
9.‘West Africa’, in Vincent Barnett (ed.), The Routledge Handbook to Global Economic Thought (London 2014), pp. 243-56. With Gerardo Serra.
10.‘Introduction: the renaissance of African economic history’, Economic History Review, 67:4 (2014), pp. 893-906. With Stephen Broadberry.
11.‘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.
12.'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 (James Currey 2013), pp. 243-65.
13.‘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.
14.‘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 & Gérard Roland (eds), Institutions and Comparative Economic Development (Palgrave 2012), pp. 237-53.
15.‘A. G. Hopkins, West Africa, and economic history’, in Toyin Falola & Emily Brownell (eds), Africa, Empire and Globalization (Durham NC 2011), pp. 51-80.
16.'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.
17.‘The Developmental State and Labour-intensive Industrialization: “Late Development” Re-considered’, Economic History of the Developing Regions, 25:1 (2010), pp. 51-74.
18.‘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.
19.‘Factor Markets in Nieboer Conditions: Early Modern West Africa, c.1500-c.1900’, Continuity and Change, 24: 1 (2009), pp. 23-53.
20.‘Collusion and Competition in Colonial Economies: Banking in British West Africa, 1916-1960’, Business History Review 81 (2007), pp.1-26. With Chibuike Uche.
21.‘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.
22.‘African Business in Nineteenth-Century West Africa’, in Alusine Jalloh & Toyin Falola (eds), Black Business and Economic Power (Rochester NY, 2002), pp. 152-99.
23.‘Markets, Democracy and African Economic Growth: Liberalism and Afro-pessimism Reconsidered’, The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs 357 (2000), pp. 543-55.
24.‘Introduction’ to Classics in African Anthropology edition of Polly Hill’s Migrant Cocoa-Farmers of Southern Ghana (Oxford, 1997), pp. ix-xxviii.
25.‘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.
26‘National Poverty and the “Vampire State” in Ghana: A Review Article’, Journal of International Development, 8:4 (1996), pp. 553-73.
27.“No Elders Were Present”: Commoners and Private Ownership in Asante, 1807-1896’, Journal of African History, 37:1 (1996), pp. 1-30.
28.‘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 29.‘Legitimate’ Commerce: The Commercial Transition in Nineteenth-Century West Africa (Cambridge, 1995), pp. 93-118.
30.‘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.
31.‘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.
32.‘The Emergence of Capitalist Relations in South Asante Cocoa-Farming, c.1916-33’, Journal of African History, 27:2 (1987), pp. 259-79.