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

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  • Johan Fourie

    () (Department of Economics, University of Stellenbosch)

Abstract

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
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    File URL: https://www.ekon.sun.ac.za/wpapers/2014/wp162014/wp-16-2014.pdf
    File Function: First version, 2014
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    Citations

    Blog mentions

    As found by EconAcademics.org, 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

    Keywords

    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

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