IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Subverting the standard view of the Cape economy: Robert Ross’s cliometric contribution and the work it inspired


  • Johan Fourie

    () (Department of Economics, University of Stellenbosch)


In the late 1980s Robert Ross and co-author Pieter van Duin reversed the widely accepted view of the Cape economy as a ‘social and economic backwater’ of widespread subsistence farming and overall poverty, scattered with small islands of relatively affluent farmers. Exploring the rich quantitative records kept by Dutch East India Company officials, they argued that the Cape had been more dynamic and progressive than earlier historians had assumed and that the market for Cape agricultural produce had been ‘much larger, more dynamic and quicker growing’ than previously thought, so that ‘a very considerable rate of agricultural growth’ had been possible. While their work was not immediately recognised, research conducted over the last decade using new archival sources and econometric techniques have largely confirmed their empirical observations. Yet, despite these rapid advances in our understanding of the Cape economy, the image that the early Cape Colony was a ‘sleepy colonial backwater whose unpromising landscape was seemingly devoid of any economic potential’ persists.

Suggested Citation

  • Johan Fourie, 2014. "Subverting the standard view of the Cape economy: Robert Ross’s cliometric contribution and the work it inspired," Working Papers 16/2014, Stellenbosch University, Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:sza:wpaper:wpapers221

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    File Function: First version, 2014
    Download Restriction: no


    Blog mentions

    As found by, the blog aggregator for Economics research:
    1. Robert Ross and the voyages of discovery
      by Johan Fourie in Johan Fourie's Blog on 2014-09-19 11:54:44

    More about this item


    Cape Colony; cliometric; economic history; slavery; wealth;

    JEL classification:

    • N36 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy - - - Latin America; Caribbean

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:sza:wpaper:wpapers221. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Melt van Schoor). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.