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The Use of Quantitative Micro-data in Canadian Economic History: A Brief Survey

Livio Di Matteo, Lakehead University


From a macro perspective, Canadian quantitative economic history is concerned with the collection and construction of historical time series data as well as the study of the performance of broad economic aggregates over time.2 The micro dimension of quantitative economic history focuses on individual and sector responses to economic phenomena.3 In particular, micro economic history is marked by the collection and analysis of data sets rooted in individual economic and social behavior. This approach uses primary historical records like census rolls, probate records, assessment rolls, land records, parish records and company records, to construct sets of socio-economic data used to examine the social and economic characteristics and behavior of those individuals and their society, both cross-sectionally and over time.

The expansion of historical micro-data studies in Canada has been a function of academic demand and supply factors. On the demand side, there has been a desire for more explicit use of economic and social theory in history and micro-data studies that make use of available records on individuals appeal to historians interested in understanding aggregate trends and reaching the micro-underpinnings of the larger macroeconomic and social relationships. For example, in Canada, the late nineteenth century was a period of intermittent economic growth and analyzing how that growth record affected different groups in society requires studies that disaggregate the population into sub-groups. One way of doing this that became attractive in the 1960’s was to collect micro-data samples from relevant census, assessment or probate records.

On the supply side, computers have lowered research costs, making the analysis of large data sets feasible and cost-effective. The proliferation of low cost personal computers, statistical packages and data spread-sheets has led to another revolution in micro-data analysis, as computers are now routinely taken into archives so that data collection, input and analysis can proceed even more efficiently.

In addition, studies using historical micro-data are an area where economic historians trained either as economists or historians have been able to find common ground.4 Many of the pioneering micro-data projects in Canada were conducted by historians with some training in quantitative techniques, much of which was acquired “on the job” by intellectual interest and excitement, rather than as graduate school training. Historians and economists are united by their common analysis of primary micro-data sources and their choice of sophisticated computer equipment, linkage software and statistical packages.

Background to Historical Micro-data Studies in Canadian Economic History

The early stage of historical micro-data projects in Canada attempted to systematically collect and analyze data on a large scale. Many of these micro-data projects crossed the lines between social and economic history, as well as demographic history in the case of French Canada. Path-breaking work by American scholars such as Lee Soltow (1971), Stephan Thernstrom (1973) and Alice Hanson Jones (1980) was an important influence on Canadian work. Their work on wealth and social structure and mobility using census and probate data drew attention to the extent of mobility — geographic, economic and social — that existed in pre-twentieth-century America.

However, Canadian historical micro-data work has been quite distinct from that of the United States, reflecting its separate tradition in economic history. Canada’s history is one of centralized penetration from the east via the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence waterway and the presence of two founding “nations” of European settlers – English and French – which led to strong Protestant and Roman Catholic traditions. Indeed, there was nearly 100 percent membership in the Roman Catholic Church for francophone Quebeckers for much of Canada’s history. As well, there is an economic reliance on natural resources, and a sparse population spread along an east-west corridor in isolated regions that have made Canada’s economic history, politics and institutions quite different from the United States.

The United States, from its early natural resource staples origins, developed a large, integrated internal market that was relatively independent of external economic forces, at least compared with Canada, and this shifted research topics away from trade and towards domestic resource allocation issues. At the level of historical micro-data, American scholars have had access to national micro-data samples for some time, which has not been the case in Canada until recently. Most of the early studies in Canadian micro-data were regional or urban samples drawn from manuscript sources and there has been little work since at a national level using micro-data sources. However, the strong role of the state in Canada has meant a particular richness to those sources that can be accessed and even the Census contains some personal details not available in the U.S. Census, such as religious affiliation. Moreover, earnings data are available in the Canadian census starting some forty years earlier than the United States.

Canadian micro-data studies have examined industry, fertility, urban and rural life, wages and labor markets, women’s work and roles in the economy, immigration and wealth. The data sources include census, probate records, assessment rolls, legal records and contracts, and are used by historians, economists, geographers, sociologists and demographers to study economic history.5 Very often, the primary sources are untapped and there can be substantial gaps in their coverage due to uneven preservation.

A Survey of Micro-data Studies

Early Years in English Canada

The fruits of early work in English Canada were books and papers by Frank Denton and Peter George (1970, 1973), Michael Katz (1975) and David Gagan (1981), among others.6 The Denton and George paper examined the influences on family size and school attendance in Wentworth County, Ontario, using the 1871 Census of Canada manuscripts. But it was Katz and Gagan’s work that generated greater attention among historians. Katz’s Hamilton Project used census, assessment rolls, city directories and other assorted micro-records to describe patterns of life in mid-nineteenth century Hamilton. Gagan’s Peel County Project was a comprehensive social and economic study of Peel County, Ontario, again using a variety of individual records including probate. These studies stimulated discussion and controversy about nineteenth-century wealth, inheritance patterns, and family size and structure.

The Demographic Tradition in French Canada

In French Canada, the pioneering work was the Saguenay Project organized by Gerard Bouchard (1977, 1983, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1998). Beginning in the 1970’s, a large effort has been expended to create a computerized genealogical and demographic data base for the Saguenay and Charlevoix regions of Quebec going back well into the nineteenth century. This data set, known now as the Balsac Register, contains data on 600,000 individuals (140,000 couples) and 2.4 million events (e.g. births, deaths, gender, etc…) with enormous social scientific and human genetic possibilities. The material gathered has been used to examine fertility, marriage patterns, inheritance, agricultural production and literacy, as well as genetic predisposition towards disease and formed the basis for a book spanning the history of population and families in the Saguenay over the period 1858 to 1971.

French Canada has a strong tradition of historical micro-data research rooted in demographic analysis.7 Another project underway since 1969 and associated with Bertrand Desjardins, Hubert Charbonneau, Jacques Légaré and Yves Landry is Le Programme de recherche en démographie historique (P.R.D.H) at the University of Montréal (Charbonneau, 1988; Landry, 1993; Desjardins, 1993). The database will eventually contain details on a million persons and their life events in Quebec between 1608 and 1850.

Industrial Studies

Only for the 1871 census have all of the schedules survived and the industrial schedules of that census have been made machine-readable (Bloomfield, 1986; Borsa and Inwood, 1993). Kris Inwood and Phyllis Wagg (1993) have used the census manuscript industrial schedules to examine the survival of handloom weaving in rural Canada circa 1870 (Inwood and Wagg, 1993). A total of 2,830 records were examined and data on average product, capital and month’s activity utilized. The results show that the demand for woolen homespun was income sensitive and that patterns of weaving by men and women differed with male-headed firms working a greater number of months during the year and more likely to have a second worker.

More recently, using a combination of aggregate capital market data and firm-level data for a sample of Canadian and American steel producers, Ian Keay and Angela Redish (2004) analyze the relationships between capital costs, financial structure, and domestic capital market characteristics. They find that national capital market characteristics and firm specific characteristics were important determinants of twentieth-century U.S. and Canadian steel firms’ financing decisions. Keay (2000) uses information from firms’ balance sheets and income accounts, and industry-specific prices to calculate labor, capital, intermediate input and total factor productivities for a sample of 39 Canadian and 39 American manufacturing firms in nine industries. The firm-level data also allow for the construction of nation, industry and time consistent series, including capital and value added. Inwood and Keay (2005) use establishment-level data describing manufacturers located in 128 border and near-border counties in Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Ontario to calculate Canadian relative to U.S. total factor productivity ratios for 25 industries. Their results illustrate that the average U.S. establishment was approximately 7% more efficient than its Canadian counterpart in 1870/71.

Population, Demographics & Fertility

Marvin McInnis (1977) assembled a body of census data on childbearing and other aspects of Upper Canadian households in 1861 and produced a sample of 1200 farm households that was used to examine the relationship between child-bearing and land availability. He found that an abundance of nearby uncultivated land did affect the probability of there being young children in the household but the magnitude of the influence was small. Moreover, the strongest result was that fertility fell as larger cities developed sufficiently close by for there to be a real influence by urban life and culture.

Eric Moore and Brian Osborne (1987) have examined the socio-economic differentials of marital fertility in Kingston. They related religion, birthplace, and age of mother, ethnic origin and occupational status to changes in fertility between 1861and 1881, using a data set of approximately 3000 observations taken from the manuscript census. Their choice of variables allows for the examination of the impact of both economic factors, as well as the importance of cultural attributes. William Marr (1992) took the first reasonably large sample of farm households (2,656) from the 1851-52 Census of Canada West and examined the determinants of fertility. He found fertility differences between older and more newly settled regions were influenced by land availability at the farm level but farm location, with respect to the extent of agricultural development, did not affect fertility when age, birthplace and religion were held constant. Michael Wayne (1998) uses the 1861 Census of Canada to look at the black population of Canada on the eve of the American Civil War. Meanwhile, George Emery (1993) helps provide an assessment of the comprehensiveness and accuracy of aggregate vital statistics in Ontario between 1869 and 1952 by looking at the process of recording vital statistics. Emery and Kevin McQuillan (1988) use case studies to examine mortality in nineteenth-century Ingersoll, Ontario.

Urban and Rural Life

A number of studies have examined urban and rural life. Bettina Bradbury (1984) has analyzed the census manuscripts of two working class Montreal wards, Ste. Anne and St. Jacques, for the years 1861, 1871 and 1881. Random samples of 1/10 of the households in these parts of Montreal were taken for a sample of nearly 11,000 individuals over three decades. The data were used to examine women and wage labor in Montreal. The evidence is that men were the primary wage earners but the wife’s contribution to the family economy was not so much her own wage labor, which was infrequent, but in organizing the economic life of the household and finding alternate sources of support.

Bettina Bradbury, Peter Gossage, Evelyn Kolish and Alan Stewart (1993) and Gossage (1991) have examined marriage contracts in Montreal over the period 1820-1840 and found that, over time, the use of marriage contracts changed, becoming a tool of a propertied minority. As well, a growing proportion of contract signers chose to keep the property of spouses separate rather than “in community.” The movement towards separation was most likely to be found among the wealthy where separate property offered advantages, especially to those engaged in commerce during harsh economic times. Gillian Hamilton (1999) looks at prenuptial contracting behavior in early nineteenth-century Quebec to explore property rights within families and finds that couples signing contracts tended to choose joint ownership of property when wives were particularly important to the household.

Chad Gaffield (1979, 1983, 1987) has examined social, family and economic life in the Eastern Ontario counties of Prescott-Russell, Alfred and Caledonia using aggregate census, as well as manuscript data for the period 1851-1881.8 He has applied the material to studying rural schooling and the economic structure of farm families and found systematic differences between the marriage patterns of Anglophones and Francophone with Francophone tending to marry at a younger average age. Also, land shortages and the diminishing forest frontier created economic difficulties that led to reduced family sizes by 1881. Gaffield’s most significant current research project is his leadership of the Canadian Century Research Infrastructure (CCRI) initiative, one of the country’s largest research projects. The CCRI is creating cross-indexed databases from a century’s worth of national census information, enabling unprecedented understanding of the making of modern Canada. This effort will eventually lead to an integrated set of micro-data resources at a national level comparable to what currently exist for the United States.9

Business Records

Company and business records have also been used as a source of micro-data and insight into economic history. Gillian Hamilton has conducted a number of studies examining contracts, property rights and labor markets in pre-twentieth century Canada. Hamilton (1996, 2000) examines the nature of apprenticing arrangements in Montreal around the turn of the nineteenth century, using apprenticeship contracts from a larger body of notarial records found in Quebec. The principal question addressed is what determined apprenticeship length and when the decline of the institution began? Hamilton finds that the characteristics of both masters and their boys were important and that masters often relied on probationary periods to better gauge a boy’s worth before signing a contract. Probations, all else equal, were associated with shorter contracts.

Ann Carlos and Frank Lewis (1998, 1999, 2001, 2002) access Hudson Bay Company fur trading records to study property rights, competition, and depletion in the eighteenth-century Canadian fur trade and their work represents an important foray into Canadian aboriginal economic history by studying role of aboriginals as consumers. Doug McCalla (2005, 2005, 2001) uses store records from Upper Canada to examine and understand consumer purchases in the early nineteenth century and gain insight into material culture. Barton Hamilton and Mary MacKinnon (1996) use the Canadian Pacific Railway records to study changes between 1903 and 1938 in the composition of job separations, and the probability of separation. The proportion of voluntary departures fell by more than half after World War I. Independent competing risk, piecewise-constant hazard functions for the probabilities of quits and layoffs are estimated. Changes in workforce composition lengthened the average worker’s spell, but a worker with any given set of characteristics was much more likely to be laid off after 1921, although many of these layoffs were only temporary.

MacKinnon (1997) taps into the CPR data again with a constructed sample of 9000 employees hired before 1945 that includes 700 pensioners and finds features of the CPR pension plan are consistent with economic explanations regarding the role of pensions. Long, continuous periods of service were likely to be rewarded and employees in the most responsible positions generally had higher pensions.

MacKinnon (1996) complements published Canadian nominal wage data by constructing a new hourly wage series, developed from firm records, for machinists, helpers, and laborers employed by the Canadian Pacific Railway between 1900 and 1930. This new evidence suggests that real wage growth in Canada was faster than previously believed, and that there were substantial changes in wage inequality. In another contribution, MacKinnon (1990) studies unemployment relief in Canada by examining relief policies and recipients and contrasting the Canadian situation with unemployment insurance in Britain. She finds demographic factors important in explaining who went on relief, with older workers, and those with large families most likely to be on relief for sustained periods. Another unique contribution to historical labor studies is Michael Huberman and Denise Young (1999). They examine a set of individual strike data of 1554 strikes for Canada from 1901 to 1914 and conclude that having international unions did not weaken Canada’s union movement and that they became part of Canada’s industrial relations framework.

The 1891 and 1901 Census

An ongoing project is the 1891 Census of Canada Project at the University of Guelph under Director Kris Inwood, which is making the information of this census available to the research public in a digitized sample of individual records from the 1891 census. The project is hosted by the University of Guelph, with support from the Canadian Foundation for Innovation, the Ontario Innovation Trust and private sector partners. Phase 1 (Ontario) of the project began during the winter of 2003 in association with the College of Arts Canada Research Chair in Rural History. The Ontario project continues until 2007. Phase II began in 2005; it extends data collection to the rest of the country and also creates an integrated national sample. The database includes information returned on a randomly selected 5% of the enumerators’ manuscript pages with each page containing information describing twenty-five people. An additional 5% of census pages for western Canada and several large cities augment the basic sample. Ultimately the database will contain records for more than 350,000 people, bearing in mind that the population of Canada in 1891 was 3.8 million.

The release of the 1901 Census of Canada manuscript census has also spawned numerous micro-data studies. Peter Baskerville and Eric Sager (1995, 1998) have used the 1901 Census to examine unemployment and the work force in late Victorian Canada.10 Baskerville (2001a,b) uses the 1901 census to examine the practice of boarding in Victorian Canada while in another study he uses the 1901 census to examine wealth and religion. Kenneth Sylvester (2001) uses the 1901 census to examine ethnicity and landholding. Alan Green and Mary MacKinnon (2001) use a new sample of individual-level data compiled from the manuscript returns of the 1901 Census of Canada to examine the assimilation of male wage-earning immigrants (mainly from the UK) in Montreal and Toronto. Unlike studies of post-World War II immigrants to Canada, and some recent studies of nineteenth-century immigration to the United States, they find slow assimilation to the earnings levels of native-born English mother-tongue Canadians. Green, MacKinnon and Chris Minns (2005) use 1901 census data to demonstrate that Anglophones and Francophone had very different personal characteristics, so that movement to the west was rarely economically attractive for Francophone. However, large-scale migration into New England fitted French Canadians’ demographic and human capital profile.

Wealth and Inequality

Recent years have also seen the emergence of a body of literature by several contributors on wealth accumulation and distribution in nineteenth-century Canada. This work has provided quantitative measurements of the degree of inequality in wealth holding, as well as its evolution over time. Gilles Paquet and Jean-Pierre Wallot (1976, 1986) have examined the net personal wealth of wealth holders using “les inventaires après déces” (inventories taken after death) in Quebec during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. They have suggested that the habitant was indeed a rational economic agent who chose land as a form of wealth not because of inherent conservatism but because information and transactions costs hindered the accumulation of financial assets.

A. Gordon Darroch (1983a, 1983b) has utilized municipal assessment rolls to study wealth inequality in Toronto during the late nineteenth century. Darroch found that inequality among assessed families was such that the top one-fifth of assessed families held at least 65% of all assessed wealth and the poorest 40% never more than 8%, even though inequality did decline between 1871 and 1899. Darroch and Michael Ornstein (1980, 1984) used the 1871 Census to examine ethnicity, occupational structure and family life cycles in Canada. Darroch and Soltow (1992, 1994) research property holding in Ontario using 5,669 individuals the 1871 census manuscripts and find “deep and abiding structures of inequality” accompanied by opportunities for mobility.

Lars Osberg and Fazley Siddiq (1988, 1993) and Siddiq (1988) have examined wealth inequality in Nova Scotia using probated estates from 1871 and 1899. They found a slight shift towards greater inequality in wealth over time and concluded that the prosperity of the 1850-1875 period in Nova Scotia benefited primarily the Halifax- based merchant class. Higher levels of wealth were associated with being a merchant and with living in Halifax, as opposed to the rest of the province. Siddiq and Julian Gwyn (1992) used probate inventories from 1851 and 1871 to study wealth over the period. They again document a greater trend towards inequality, accompanied by rising wealth. In addition, Peter Wardhas collected a set of 196 Nova Scotia probate records for Lunenburg County spanning 1808-1922, as well as a set of poll tax records for the same location between 1791 and 1795.11

Livio Di Matteo and Peter George (1992, 1998) have examined wealth distribution in late nineteenth century Ontario using probate records and assessment roll data for Wentworth County for the years 1872, 1882, 1892 and 1902. They find a rise in average wealth levels up until 1892 and a decline from 1892 to 1902. Whereas the rise in wealth from 1872 to 1892 appears to have accompanied by a trend towards greater equality in wealth distribution, the period 1892 to 1902 marked a return to greater inequality. Di Matteo (1996, 1997, 1998, 2001) uses a set of 3,515 probated decedents for all of Ontario in 1892 to examine the determinants of wealth holding, the wealth of the Irish, inequality and life cycle accumulation. Di Matteo and Herb Emery (2002) use the 1892 Ontario data to examine life insurance holding and the extent of self-insurance as wealth rises. Di Matteo (2004, 2006) uses a newly constructed micro-data set for the Thunder Bay District from 1885-1920 consisting of 1,293 probated decedents to examine wealth and inequality during Canada’s wheat boom era. Di Matteo is currently using Ontario probated decedents from 1902 linked to the 1901 census and combined with previous data from 1892 to examine the impact of religious affiliation on wealth holding.

Wealth and property holding among women has also been a specific topic of research.12 Peter Baskerville (1999) uses probate data to examine wealth holding by women in the cities of Victoria and Hamilton between 1880 and 1901 and finds that they were substantial property owners. The holding of wealth by women in the wake of property legislation is studied by Inwood and Sue Ingram (2000) and Inwood and Sarah Van Sligtenhorst (2004). Their work chronicles the increase in female property holding in the wake of Canadian property law changes in the late nineteenth-century, Inwood and Richard Reid (2001) also use the Canadian Census to examine the relationship between gender and occupational identity.


The flurry of recent activity in Canadian quantitative economic history using census and probate data bodes well for the future. Even the National Archives of Canada has now made digital images of census forms available online as well as other primary records.13 Moreover, projects such as the CCRI and the 1891 Census Project hold the promise of new, integrated data sources for future research on national as opposed to regional micro-data questions. We will be able to see the extent of regional economic development, earnings and convergence at a regional level and from a national perspective. Access to the 1911 and future access to the 1921 Census of Canada will also provide fertile areas for research and discovery. The period between 1900 and 1921, spanning the wheat boom and the First World War, is particularly important as it coincides with Canadian industrialization, rapid economic growth and the further expansion of wealth and income at the individual level. Moreover, the access to new samples of micro data may also help shed light on aboriginal economic history during the nineteenth and early twentieth century, as well as the economic progress of women.14 In particular, the economic history of Canada’s aboriginal peoples after the decline of the fur trade and during Canada’s industrialization is an area where micro-data might be useful in illustrating economic trends and conditions.15


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Hamilton, Gillian. “The Market for Montreal Apprentices: Contract Length and Information.”Explorations in Economic History 33, no 4 (1996): 496-523

Hamilton, Michelle, and Kris Inwood. “The Identification of the Aboriginal Population in the 1891 Census of Canada.” Manuscript, University of Guelph, 2006.

Henripin, Jacques. Tendances at facteurs de la fécondité au Canada Bureau fédéral de la Statistique. Ottawa: Bureau fe?de?ral de la statistique, 1968.

Huberman, Michael, and Denise Young. “Cross-Border Unions: Internationals in Canada, 1901-1914.” Explorations in Economic History 36 (1999): 204-31.

Igartua Jose E. “Les bases de donnés historiques: L’expérience canadienne depuis quinze ans – Introduction.” Histoire sociale-Social History XXI, no. 42 (1988): 283-86.

Inwood, Kris, and Phyllis Wagg. “The Survival of Handloom Weaving in Rural Canada circa 1870.” Journal of Economic History 53 (1993): 346-58.

Inwood, Kris, and Sue Ingram, “The Impact of Married Women’s Property Legislation in Victorian Ontario.” Dalhousie Law Journal 23, no. 2 (2000): 405-49.

Inwood, Kris, and Sarah Van Sligtenhorst. “The Social Consequences of Legal Reform: Women and Property in a Canadian Community.” Continuity and Change 19 no. 1 (2004): 165-97.

Inwood, Kris, and Richard Reid. “Gender and Occupational Identity in a Canadian Census.” Historical Methods 32, no. 2 (2001): 57-70.

Inwood, Kris, and Kevin James. “The 1891 Census of Canada.” Cahiers québécois de démographie, forthcoming.

Inwood, Kris, and Ian.Keay. “Bigger Establishments in Thicker Markets: Can We Explain Early Productivity Differentials between Canada and the United States.” Canadian Journal of Economics 38, no. 4 (2005): 1327-63.

Jones, Alice Hanson. Wealth of a Nation to Be: The American Colonies on the Eve of the Revolution. New York: Columbia Press, 1980.

Katz, Michael B. _The People of Hamilton, Canada West: Family and Class in a Mid-nineteenth-century City_. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975.

Keay, Ian. “Canadian Manufacturers’ Relative Productivity Performance: 1907-1990.” Canadian Journal of Economics 44, no. 4 (2000): 1049-68.

Keay, Ian, and Angela Redish. “The Micro-economic Effects of Financial Market Structure: Evidence from Twentieth -century North American Steel Firms.” Explorations in Economic History 41, no. 4 (2004): 377-403.

Landry, Yves. “Fertility in France and New France: The Distinguishing Characteristics of Canadian Behaviour in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.” Social Science History 17, no. 4 (1993): 577-92.

Mackinnon, Mary. “Relief Not Insurance: Canadian Unemployment Relief in the 1930s.”Explorations in Economic History 27, no. 1 (1990): 46-83

Mackinnon, Mary. “New Evidence on Canadian Wage Rates, 1900-1930.”

Canadian Journal of Economics XXIX, no.1 (1996): 114-31.

MacKinnon, Mary. “Providing for Faithful Servants: Pensions at the Canadian Pacific Railway.” Social Science History 21, no. 1 (1997): 59-83.

Marr, William. “Micro and Macro Land Availability as a Determinant of Human Fertility in Rural Canada West, 1851.” Social Science History 16 (1992): 583-90.

McCalla, Doug. “Upper Canadians and Their Guns: An Exploration via Country Store Accounts (1808-61).” Ontario History 97 (2005): 121-37.

McCalla, Doug. “A World without Chocolate: Grocery Purchases at Some Upper Canadian Country Stores, 1808-61.” Agricultural History 79 (2005): 147-72.

McCalla, Doug. “Textile Purchases by Some Ordinary Upper Canadians, 1808-1862.” Material History Review 53, (2001): 4-27.

McInnis, Marvin. “Childbearing and Land Availability: Some Evidence from Individual Household Data.” In Population Patterns in the Past, edited by Ronald Demos Lee, 201-27. New York: Academic Press, 1977.

Moore, Eric G., and Brian S. Osborne. “Marital Fertility in Kingston, 1861-1881: A Study of Socio-economic Differentials.” Histoire sociale-Social History XX (1987): 9-27.

Muise, Del. “The Industrial Context of Inequality: Female Participation in Nova Scotia’s Paid Workforce, 1871-1921.” Acadiensis XX, no. 2 (1991).

Myers, Sharon. “‘Not to Be Ranked as Women’: Female Industrial Workers in Halifax at the Turn of the Twentieth Century.” In Separate Spheres: Women’s Worlds in the Nineteenth-Century Maritimes, edited by Janet Guildford and Suzanne Morton, 161-83. Fredericton: Acadiensis Press, 1994.

Osberg, Lars, and Fazley Siddiq. “The Acquisition of Wealth in Nova Scotia in the Late Nineteenth Century.” Research in Economic Inequality 4 (1993): 181-202.

Osberg, Lars, and Fazley Siddiq. “The Inequality of Wealth in Britain’s North American Colonies: The Importance of the Relatively Poor.” Review of Income and Wealth 34 (1988): 143-63.

Paquet, Gilles, and Jean-Pierre Wallot. “Les Inventaires après décès à Montréal au tournant du XIXe siècle: preliminaires à une analyse.” Revue d’histoire de l’Amérique française 30 (1976): 163-221.

Paquet, Gilles, and Jean-Pierre Wallot. “Stratégie Foncière de l’Habitant: Québec (1790-1835).” Revue d’histoire de l’Amérique française 39 (1986): 551-81.

Seager, Allen, and Adele Perry. “Mining the Connections: Class, Ethnicity and Gender in Nanaimo, British Columbia, 1891.” Histoire sociale/Social History 30 , no. 59 (1997): 55-76.

Siddiq, Fazley K. “The Size Distribution of Probate Wealth Holdings in Nova Scotia in the Late Nineteenth Century.” Acadiensis 18 (1988): 136-47.

Soltow, Lee. Patterns of Wealthholding in Wisconsin since 1850. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1971.

Sylvester, Kenneth Michael. “All Things Being Equal: Land Ownership and Ethnicity in Rural Canada, 1901.” Histoire sociale-Social History XXXIV, no. 67 (2001): 35-59.

Thernstrom, Stephan. The Other Bostonians: Poverty and Progress in the American Metropolis, 1880-1970. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1973.

Urquhart, Malcolm C. Gross National Product, Canada, 1870-1926: The Derivation of the Estimates. Montreal: McGill-Queens, 1993.

Urquhart, Malcolm C. “New Estimates of Gross National Product Canada, 1870-1926: Some Implications for Canadian Development.” In Long Term Factors in American Economic Growth, edited by Stanley L. Engerman and Robert E. Gallman, 9-94. Chicago: University of Chicago Press (1986).

Wayne, Michael. “The Black Population of Canada West on the Eve of the American Civil War: A Reassessment Based on the Manuscript Census of 1861.” In A Nation of Immigrants: Women, Workers and Communities in Canadian History, edited by Franca Iacovetta, Paula Draper and Robert Ventresca. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998.


1 The helpful comments of Herb Emery, Mary MacKinnon and Kris Inwood on earlier drafts are acknowledged.

2 See especially Mac Urquhart’s spearheading of the major efforts in national income and output estimates. (Urquhart, 1986, 1993)

3 “Individual response” means by individuals, households and firms.

4 See Gaffield (1988) and Igartua (1988).

5 The Conference on the Use of Census Manuscripts for Historical Research held at Guelph in March 1993 was an example of the interdisciplinary nature of historical micro-data research. The conference was sponsored by the Canadian Committee on History and Computing, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the University of Guelph. The conference was organized by economist Kris Inwood and historian Richard Reid and featured presentations by historians, economists, demographers, sociologists and anthropologists.

6 The Denton/George project had its origins in a proposal to the Second Conference on Quantitative Research in Canadian Economic History in 1967 that a sampling of the Canadian census be undertaken. Denton and George drew a sample from the manuscript census returns for individuals for 1871 that had recently been made available, and reported their preliminary findings to the Fourth Conference in March, 1970 in a paper that was published shortly afterwards in Histoire sociale/Social History (1970). Mac Urquhart’s role here must be acknowledged. He and Ken Buckley were insistent that a sampling of Census manuscripts would be an important venture for the conference members to initiate.

7 Also, sources such as the aggregate census have been used to examine fertility by Henripin (1968) and mortality by Bourbeau and Legaré (1982)).

8 Chad Gaffield, Peter Baskerville and Alan Artibise were also involved in the creation of a machine-readable listing of archival sources on Vancouver Island known as the Vancouver Islands Project (Gaffield, 1988, 313).

9 See Chad Gaffield, “Ethics, Technology and Confidential Research Data: The Case of the Canadian Century Research Infrastructure Project,” paper presented to the World History Conference, Sydney, July 3-9, 2005.

10 Baskerville and Sager have been involved in the Canadian Families Project. See “The Canadian Families Project”, a special issue of the journal Historical Methods, 33 no. 4 (2000).

11 See Don Paterson’s Economic and Social History Data Base at the University of British Columbia at

12 Examples of other aspects of gender and economic status in a regional context ar e covered by Muise (1991), Myers (1994) and Seager and Perry (1997).

13 See

14 See for example the work by Gerhard Ens (1996) on the Red River Metis.

15 Hamilton and Inwood (2006) have begun research into identifying the aboriginal population in the 1891 Census of Canada.

Citation: Di Matteo, Livio. “The Use of Quantitative Micro-data in Canadian Economic History: A Brief Survey”. EH.Net Encyclopedia, edited by Robert Whaples. January 27, 2007. URL

Smart Globalization: The Canadian Business and Economic History Experience

Editor(s):Smith, Andrew
Anastakis, Dimitry
Reviewer(s):McInnis, Marvin

Published by EH.Net (September 2014)

Andrew Smith and Dimitry Anastakis, editors, Smart Globalization: The Canadian Business and Economic History Experience. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2014. xi + 239 pp.  $28 (paperback), ISBN: 978-1-4426-1612-7.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Marvin McInnis, Professor of Economics, Queen’s University.

This is a collection of studies presented at a conference held at the University of Waterloo in January 2010. The editors offer them as exemplifications of the positive results of selective or “smart” globalization. They build especially on the writing of Dani Rodrik (e.g., Rodrik 2011). The proposition is that nations facing the integration of their economies with the rest of the world may be best advised to pursue a selective policy of some openness and some protective measures. Smith and Anastakis claim that Canadian economic history offers good examples of just such a policy stance. Economists and historians who have mostly looked upon the Canadian response to late nineteenth century globalization as essentially protectionist will be surprised by this point of view.

The inherent nature of the Canadian economy meant that from the initial time of European settlement of the country it was closely integrated into a wider world economy. Much of Canadian economic policy was based upon the desire to benefit from its international trading relationships. The dominant fact, however, facing Canadians was that their closest and most promising trading partner, the United States, had taken a steep step in a protectionist direction. The Canadian response was essentially defensive. Canada, too, became protectionist. Was this “smart” or merely a matter of just jumping onto the protectionist wagon? Wherein lay the selectivity? The usual view of the Canadian tariff is that, in a blanket fashion, protection was offered to anyone who wanted it, and even some (like the agricultural implement manufacturers) who said that they did not need it. There is little in the studies presented here that would point to clever design in the implementation of the tariff.

If one really wanted to assess whether the Canadian case exemplifies a strategic or selective use of protectionist measures within a broader accommodation to exposure to the rest of the world, one would need to carry out a carefully structured investigation. Picking and choosing studies by scholars who had other objectives in mind does not make a convincing case. Too often we are left wondering what might have been the alternative outcome. That said, the individual studies in the collection are interesting and useful contributions to our understanding of Canadian economic history. They are worth reading in their own right.

Andrew Dilley shows how the province of Ontario was able to develop hydroelectric power production and distribution as a state enterprise despite severe opposition from financiers in London. It is not shown that this was accomplished with impunity. For the editors’ purposes it would be useful to learn how the experience of the neighboring province of Quebec, acquiescing on private enterprise, contrasted with the experience of Ontario. In his chapter, Mark Kuhlberg shows how the much vaunted “manufacturing condition” imposed on pulpwood was in fact subverted by other policy aims of the province of Ontario. The requirement that pulpwood cut on crown land in Ontario be manufactured in the province, a patently protectionist measure, is shown to have had little actual effect given the exemptions offered to encourage settlement in the northern forest area. Daryl White explains how, under the stress of national emergency during World War I, Canada effectively forced the International Nickel company to refine nickel in Canada, rather than in the then non-combatant United States, to assure that Canadian nickel would not be supplied to the enemy. It is an interesting incident in Canadian development but hardly contributes to the editors’ line of argument.

Livio Di Matteo, Herbert Emery and Martin Shanahan contrast the broader developmental effects of natural resource based development in South Australia with the experience of the much more limited and differently situated area of northwestern Ontario. That certainly relates to globalization but it is not at all clear that it has much to do with protectionism, selective or not. Michael Hinton examines the widely claimed assertion that the Canadian cotton textile manufacturing industry is an outstanding example of the failure of infant industry protection. Not so, declares Hinton. Rather it was the reverse. Behind substantial tariff protection cotton textile manufacturing grew rapidly in Canada and it became a relatively efficient industry, as gauged by total factor productivity. It was not, however, the much-touted National Policy tariff of 1879 that brought this about but the enactment of a protective tariff twenty years earlier. It is less clear that this earlier protective measure was selective nor that it was the leading cause of the development of the industry. Nevertheless, Hinton’s chapter is closest to providing support for the general claim of the editors. It calls for close attention and evaluation.

Greig Mordue looks at the development of Canada’s automobile manufacturing industry. It is a subject worthy of study but can hardly be dealt with adequately in a short article or book chapter. Mordue is particularly skimpy on the early years of the development of the industry. In the 1920s Canada was a prominent exporter of automobiles. How much that had to do with a protective environment, how much to do with shrewd entrepreneurship, and how much to do with the exploitation of privileged status within the British Empire is not sorted out. As much as anything, the chapter is intended to provide some background to the more recent and innovative development of integration of the North American automotive industry. It provides a starting point, but only that.

Graham Taylor provides an account of the success of Samuel Bronfman’s Seagram Corporation in becoming whiskey distributor to the world. As much as anything this is a story of careful tip-toeing around other countries’ protectionism. This is entrepreneurial history, including the ultimate “decline of empire.” It makes a good read. Almost as if for balance Matthew Bellamy tells about beer. The issue is why Canada’s oldest and in many ways most successful of North America’s brewing industries did not establish a world presence. It might have been expected to do that. Molson, Labatt, and Carling were, at least for a time, big names in beer. The U.S. market was difficult to penetrate and Carling did it only under unusual circumstances and by Americanizing, but ultimately was unable to sustain its presence. What Bellamy does not point out is that at the beginning of the twentieth century Anheuser-Busch’s Budweiser was more of a national brand in Canada than Molson (a much older company). How is it that Foster’s of Australia may have been more successful in gaining an international presence than Labatt of Canada? The particularized European market was a tough challenge to penetrate, but what about the third world? If Canadians were able to do so well in electrical utilities and banking in third world countries, why not in beer? A lot of questions remain to be answered. The great consolidation of brewing internationally is a very recent phenomenon.

In short, the individual chapters of this book make interesting and useful contributions to our understanding of Canadian economic history. From that point of view they are well worth examining. The editors of the volume are, however, unsuccessful in using these individual studies to make a case for the cogency of selective protectionism. There is too little attention to what might have been the course of development in the absence of protectionist measures. A structured analysis of the selective protection issue is lacking.

Dani Rodrik, 2011, The Globalization Paradox: Democracy and the Future of the World Economy, New York: Norton.

Marvin McInnis is professor of economics emeritus at Queen’s University, Canada. He is currently assembling a few of his previously unpublished papers into a book on Canadian economic development in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Copyright (c) 2014 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator ( Published by EH.Net (September 2014). All EH.Net reviews are archived at

Subject(s):Business History
Economic Planning and Policy
International and Domestic Trade and Relations
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):19th Century
20th Century: Pre WWII
20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

The Routledge Handbook of the History of Women’s Economic Thought

Editor(s):Madden, Kirsten
Dimand, Robert W.
Reviewer(s):Forget, Evelyn L

Published by EH.Net (August 2020)

Kirsten Madden and Robert W. Dimand, editors, The Routledge Handbook of the History of Women’s Economic Thought. New York: Routledge, 2019. xiv + 465 pp. $196 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-1-1388-5234-1.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Evelyn L Forget, Department of Community Health Sciences, University of Manitoba.


“By design this Routledge handbook is about women and about time and about economics. By design this handbook is global. Otherwise, this handbook is not easy to capture, condense, or consolidate into leading archetypes and primary themes” (p. 1). So writes Kirsten Madden on the first page of a fascinating adventure that draws together the wildly diverse writings of “a Soviet game theorist and a Liberian president; wives of noted nineteenth-century economists and Buddhist nuns from millennia past … revolutionaries, terrorists, even an assassin.”

This Handbook has an impressive geographical scope: women economists from Austria, Britain, China, India, Italy, Japan, Russia, the Soviet Union, sub-Saharan African nations and the U.S. are profiled. Chapters are organized by time, and most focus on the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries but the first chapter, written by Sheetal Bharat, on Indian women’s literature reaches as far back as the fifth century BCE, while the final chapters extend well into the twenty-first century. Almost all of the authors are women, with the exception of two male co-authors, and contributors range from senior scholars to graduate students.

Diverse themes are addressed. Eleven chapters address issues of gender and economy, exploring topics such as the crowding hypothesis and pay gaps, minimum wages, affirmative action, co-operation and household decision making. Other chapters explore colonialism, trade, economic development, economic statistics and finance. The experiences of women economists are not neglected; many of the economists in this collection confronted significant barriers to leave a record of their analyses. In fact, Madden writes, “one … concept crosses all the chapters: exclusion” — either because the economist herself was forced to overcome exclusionary practices or because she constructed works that spoke to the experiences of others excluded by economic practices (p. 2).

The Handbook does not aim to be exhaustive, nor does it establish a canon. It offers a selection of fascinating contributions of which many of us were unaware. As one might expect in such a variegated collection, contributions are somewhat uneven in tone and emphasis. Some chapters, such as “The First 100 Years of Female Economists in Sub-Saharan Africa,” by Lola Fowler and Robert Dimand, Giandomenica Becchio’s “Austrian School Women Economists” and Kirsten Madden’s “Anecdotes of Discrimination,” focus almost entirely on biography. Others, such as Shoshana Grossbard’s “Women’s Neoclassical Models of Marriage, 1972–2015,” lean heavily towards economic thought, traditionally understood. Other chapters combine the two and strive for a balance between the experiences of women economists and their writing. These include contributions such as “The Economic Thought of the Women’s Co-operative Guild” by Kirsten Madden and Joe Persky, Cléo Chassonery-Zaigouche’s analysis of the changing positions of Beatrice Potter Webb, Eleanor Rathbone and Millicent Garrett Fawcett on equal pay, and Marianne Johnson’s “Daughter’s of Commons; Wisconsin Women and Institutionalism.”

Co-editors Kirsten Madden, of Millersville University in Pennsylvania, and Robert Dimand, of Brock University Canada, have compiled a wonderfully diverse collection that should encourage us all to think more broadly about the history of economics. This collection, though, makes it very clear that we are at the very beginning stages of recovering the contributions of women economists. It is impossible to read any of these chapters, entertaining as many of them are, without asking some serious questions about historiography, and that may be the greatest contribution of this Handbook.

Historians of economics should be asking ourselves these questions.

Why do we need a Handbook of the History of Women’s Economic Thought? On one level, the answer is obvious. Existing collections, textbooks and even Handbooks of the History of Economic Thought include very few women. But why are women’s contributions not integrated into our understanding of “schools,” periods and themes? What are the consequences of exclusion? How does it affect the kind of histories we write?

If women economists were routinely included in standard histories of economics, would there still be a reason to have a Handbook of the History of Women’s Economic Thought? Is there some theme that binds together women economists and makes their work different from that of men? Madden’s focus on exclusion deserves more careful thought: how did exclusion manifest in particular times and places, and what were the consequences for the development of economic thought? Are there parallels, similarities and differences between the contributions of women economists and those of racialized economists?

How should we best organize a Handbook of Women’s Economic Thought? The editors’ decision to use a simple timeline makes sense at this stage of our knowledge, but should we organize by theme rather than date of contribution? If so, how do we identify the relevant themes? It isn’t obvious that the way we delineate standard histories of economic thought should be the most appropriate way to organize women’s contributions.

If we think about “themes” in the history of women’s economic thought, are there some that deserve greater attention than they have received to date? One thing that has always struck me, and it is apparent in this collection as well, is that women economists are very often embedded in the economies they write about in ways that “professional” economists, male and female, may not be. The women in this collection are activists more often than they are scholars and, while this may also have characterized male economists of the past, it persisted well into the twentieth and twenty-first centuries for many women writers. For example, Jessica Gordon Nembhard’s Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice (2014) delineates the dual role of economic writers and highlights the contributions of women. It builds on W.E.B. DuBois’s (1907) Economic Cooperation among Negro Americans, and brings another perspective to many of the same themes addressed in “The Economic Thought of the Women’s Co-operative Guild” written by Kirsten Madden and Joe Persky.

Every library needs a copy of this Handbook, and it should also find its way into the collections of historians of economics. This book will extend the boundaries of what is sometimes a very narrow field, both by including people who have been excluded, and by asking us to think again about some of the ways we define the field of economics and organize our knowledge of its past. We owe to Kirsten Madden and Bob Dimand, co-editors, as well as all the authors in this collection, a large vote of gratitude.


Evelyn L Forget is Professor of Economics in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the University of Manitoba, Canada. She is past president of the History of Economics Society, and her most recent book is Basic Income for Canadians: From the Covid-19 Emergency to Financial Security for All.

Copyright (c) 2020 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator ( Published by EH.Net (August 2020). All EH.Net reviews are archived at

Subject(s):History of Economic Thought; Methodology
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):General or Comparative

Canadian Import and Export Product-Level Quantities, Values and Duties (1870-1913)

The data set includes newly digitized product-level import and export quantities, values and duties from the Canadian Trade and Navigation tables, published annually in the federal government’s Sessional Papers.  The export data covers the years 1867-1913.  The import data covers the years 1869-1913.  There are 49,762 import product-years and 11,178 export product-years included in the data set.  Products are identified by 6-digit codes derived from the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System.  Industries are identified by 2-digit codes derived from the 1948 Standard Industrial Classification System.  Series descriptions and definitions, as well as detailed source information, acknowledgements and citations, are provided in separate work sheets in the master excel file (Cda_M_X_1867-1913.xlsx).  Text files with import and export series formatted for reading directly into statistical software are available upon request from Ian Keay.


Initial digitization of the import data for five-year intervals (1870-1910) was provided by Eugene Beaulieu and Jevan Cherniwchan.  Frank Lewis and Patrick Alexander provided support and help with the initial digitization.  Research assistance was provided by Katrina Brazzell, Bill Dorval, Hannah Keay and Xiangtao Meng.  All corrections, suggestions or questions regarding this data set should be directed to Ian Keay (


Published work using this data set includes:

Eugene Beaulieu and Jevan Cherniwchan (2014), “Tariff structure, trade expansion and Canadian protectionism, 1870-1910,” Canadian Journal of Economics 47, 144-172.
Patrick Alexander and Ian Keay (2018), “A general equilibrium analysis of Canada’s National Policy,” Explorations in Economic History 68, 1-15.
Patrick Alexander and Ian Keay (2019), “Responding to the first era of globalization: Canadian trade policy, 1870-1913,” Journal of Economic History, forthcoming.
Ian Keay (2019), “Protection for maturing industries: evidence from Canadian trade patterns and trade policy, 1870-1913,” Canadian Journal of Economics, forthcoming.


Excel file with all import and export series, descriptions, sources, acknowledgements and citations:




From Wall Street to Bay Street: The Origins and Evolution of American and Canadian Finance

Author(s):Kobrak, Christopher
Martin, Joe
Reviewer(s):Rockoff, Hugh

Published by EH.Net (February 2019)

Christopher Kobrak and Joe Martin, From Wall Street to Bay Street: The Origins and Evolution of American and Canadian Finance. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018. xii + 401 pp. $35 (paperback), ISBN: 978-1-4426-1625-7.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Hugh Rockoff, Department of Economics, Rutgers University.

Why did the Canadian financial system escape the devastation that the American system experienced in the Great Depression (although Canada did not escape the decline in economic activity) and in 2008? Indeed, why has the financial system of Canada been so much more stable throughout its history than the American system? It’s a question that many economic historians have thought about. Calomiris and Haber (2014) is a recent attempt to come to grips with this and other comparisons which highlight the instability of the American financial system. And I have done some work on this with Michael Bordo and Angela Redish (1994, 2015).

From Wall Street to Bay Street sheds light on these questions. The book, I should note, is written for the layperson and not for the typical reader of EH.Net. One imagines (hopes?) that the intended audience might include a journalist, a politician, or a business executive looking for an explanation of a puzzling fact that might in turn affect what they write or do. Although Kobrak and Martin include some comparative charts at the end of the book, the text itself includes no charts, tables, or equations. As an explanation for lay readers, it works well. But, as I will explain below, I think it is also a book that professional economic historians will profit from reading.

Joe Martin is the Director of Canadian Business History at the Rotman School of Management of the University of Toronto. Christopher Kobrak (an undergraduate philosophy major at Rutgers, a clear marker of excellence, and a Columbia Ph.D.) was at the Rotman School at his untimely death in 2017. They chose to tell the whole story of American and Canadian finance — insurance, investment banks, and so on, as well as commercial banking — chronologically. There are introductory and concluding chapters, and five chapters in which they take their story from the colonial period to today.

Although the American systems were and very likely are still more crisis-prone than the Canadian system, there have been some bad moments in Canada that they duly note. There was a “near panic” in Western Canada in 1907 that the government addressed by allowing banks to issue notes in excess of those permitted under existing reserve requirements (p. 146). The Home Bank failed in 1923 and the government provided compensation for 35 percent of small deposits. And an emergency loan was made to the Dominion Bank. The Office of the Inspector of Banks was then created in the wake of the Home Bank failure. During the 1930s the Sun Life Insurance Company received special treatment from regulators probably because it was considered “too big to fail” (p. 184). The less-developed countries debt crisis of the early 1980s hit the Canadian financial system hard. And there were other difficulties including failures of trust companies and banks. The Office of Superintendent of Financial Institutions was created in the wake of these difficulties. But all of this pales in comparison with the American record of financial crises – 1819, 1837, 1857, 1873, 1893, 1907, 1930, and 2008, just to name some of the big ones.

What explains the relative stability of the Canadian system? Kobrak and Martin rely on two explanatory factors. One, that will be familiar to most American and Canadian financial historians, is Canada’s system of nationwide branch banking; a stark contrast with the United States which for much of its history had a fragmented banking system in which banks were always prevented from branching across state lines and in some cases were prevented from establishing any branches at all by unit banking laws. Most financial historians, I believe, agree that the absence of branching made American banks far more vulnerable to economic shocks than their Canadian cousins. The problem of state-centric regulation, however, was not confined, Kobrak and Martin show, to banking, but also troubled the American Insurance industry. This comparison illustrates one of the strengths of From Wall Street to Bay Street: its broad sectoral coverage creates opportunities for comparisons that test their conclusions about the origins of the difference in stability between the systems.

The other explanation that Kobrak and Martin rely on is culture. There is a tradeoff, they argue, between innovation and stability. “American finance,” in their estimation, “has been associated with an abundance of the former and not enough of the latter, with Canada assuming the opposite approach” (p. 14). In their concluding chapter they say that “Americans have always exhibited a tolerance for recklessness in commercial innovation, which appears curious to much of the rest of the world, including Canadians.” A reference to Tocqueville, who said much the same, helps to establish the venerable lineage of their observation about different attitudes toward stability (p. 262). Their reliance on cultural differences inevitably raises the question of whether it is “Kosher to Talk about Culture” to quote the title of one of Peter Temin’s (1997) well-known papers. A reliance on cultural explanations is always problematic. It is far easier to suggest cultural explanations for economic phenomena than to test them rigorously. For that reason, many economic historians shy away from them. Kobrak and Martin, however, are not afraid. I was skeptical at first, but I found myself coming away persuaded that part of the difference in institutional arrangements (including regulatory structures) and records of stability in the two financial systems ultimately derives from different attitudes toward innovation and stability.

Some parts of the book will be familiar to professional economic historians, such as summaries of work by economic historians on slavery and the Great Depression, and can be skipped by someone already familiar with these literatures. But professional economic historians are likely to encounter ideas that are worth pondering. The repeated emphasis on cultural differences is one example. Their conviction that to understand financial systems one has to look at the systems in their entirety and not focus solely on banking is another.

My bottom line is that this is a fine book. It delivers the explanation that they promised to the lay reader, but professional economic historians, such as those of us that read the posts on EH.Net, will also find that the book is worth their time.


Bordo, Michael D., Angela Redish, and Hugh Rockoff. “The U.S. Banking System from a Northern Exposure: Stability versus Efficiency.” Journal of Economic History 54, no. 2 (1994): 325-41.

Bordo, Michael D., Angela Redish, and Hugh Rockoff. “Why Didn’t Canada Have a Banking Crisis in 2008 (or in 1930, or 1907, or …)?” Economic History Review 68, no.1, (2015): 218-43.

Calomiris, Charles and Stephen Haber. Fragile by Design: The Political Origins of Banking Crises and Scarce Credit. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014.

Temin, Peter. “Is It Kosher to Talk about Culture?” Journal of Economic History 57, no. 2 (1997): 267-87.


Hugh Rockoff is a distinguished professor of economics at Rutgers University and a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research. His current research focuses on the origins of America’s national income accounts and in joint work with Michael Leeds at Temple University on the coming of Jim Crow to American horse racing.

Copyright (c) 2019 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator ( Published by EH.Net (February 2019). All EH.Net reviews are archived at

Subject(s):Financial Markets, Financial Institutions, and Monetary History
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):19th Century
20th Century: Pre WWII
20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

Routledge Handbook of the History of Global Economic Thought

Editor(s):Barnett, Vincent
Reviewer(s):McCann, Charles R. Jr.

Published by EH.Net (October 2018)

Vincent Barnett, editor, Routledge Handbook of the History of Global Economic Thought. London: Routledge, 2015. ix + 348 pp. $255 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-0-415-50849-0.

Reviewed by Charles R. McCann, Jr., Department of Economics, University of Pittsburgh.

This volume, viewed by the editor as a Cosmoconomy or Economographia, is but a “modest attempt to map the global contour-lines of economic ideas” — modest, that is, with respect to Ptolemy’s Cosmographia, itself “an early attempt to delineate the world’s physical geography” (p. 1). The editor freely admits to a lack of comprehensiveness, instead opting for “a condensed introductory overview and regionally coordinated analytical account of a significant number of national/regional traditions in economics . . . that will facilitate comparisons across nations and between historical eras” (p. 1).

In addition to Barnett’s Introduction and Conclusion, there are twenty-eight substantive chapters surveying the progress of economic thought as it developed in more than forty countries and regions. The volume is divided into five parts: Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, Africa, and the Asia-Pacific. Coverage includes not merely individual countries, but as well entire regions and even cultural groups, such as Spanish-speaking South America, Arab-Islamic Economics, North Africa (included among the Middle-Eastern countries), West Africa, Southern Africa, and the Asian Tigers.

Given the scope of the coverage, and the different approaches employed, it is not surprising that the quality and tone of each is uneven. The chapters are, for the most part, approximately ten pages or less in length, with two notable exceptions, these being the chapter on the United States (John King, 27 pages) and the one on England (Roger Middleton, 21 pages). It seems rather obvious why each would require more extensive coverage. Given the material and the manner of its presentation, it seems best to comment briefly on each chapter.

The United Kingdom is represented in the first three substantive chapters – England (Middleton), Scotland (Alexander Dow and Sheila Dow), and Ireland (Renee Prendergast). This is perhaps understandable, as their cultural and intellectual environments differed and to a somewhat great extent. Middleton, having noted the difficulty in identifying an “English” economics as distinct from a “British” variant, nonetheless defined “English economics” as “that produced by ‘English economists,’ with these defined as those working (at least for a major part of their career) in England which, in turn, encompasses Wales and Ireland (Northern Ireland from 1923)” (p. 17). Notably, however, this excludes Scotland, which, as Dow and Dow explain, became, with the development of an Enlightenment philosophy that “combined reason and evidence within a theory of human nature,” itself the product of a uniquely Scottish cultural and social milieu, the catalyst for the emergence of classical political economy (p. 38). As to Ireland, Prendergast informs us that, while Ireland may have produced economic theorists of great renown, nonetheless “there was nothing specifically Irish about their contribution.” Their recognition may be in the “models” they employed, “designed to facilitate an understanding of the real economy,” inspiring an awareness “of both specific institutional features, and the dangers of general maxims” (p. 56).

With respect to the development of economic thought on the continent, we have chapters on Italy (Pier Luigi Porta), Greece (Michalis Psalidopoulos), Spain and Portugal (José Luis Cardoso and Luis Perdices de Blas), Germany (Erik Grimmer-Solem), Sweden (Lars Magnusson), and Russia and Ukraine (Francois Allisson). Curiously, there are no chapters on the development of French or Austrian economic thought! The Italian Enlightenment is “the greatest contribution of Italian culture to the development of a common European tradition of civil rights and enlightened governance,” distinct from its French and Scottish counterparts “in its attention to the interplay between legislation and moral sentiments, civic culture and economic development, fiscal technique, and social structure” (p. 60). Significantly, the core of Italian economic thought lies in the civil tradition, “the product of a special blend of lay and religious motives, which stems from the re-discovery . . . of antiquity or the pre-Christian world” (p. 58). This focus continued through the nineteenth century. The presentation of the Greek tradition is somewhat disappointing, as its primary focus is on the period from 1830 to the present, thus omitting what should have been a fascinating discussion of the development of the ancient roots of modern economic thought. By contrast, Cardoso and Perdices de Blas set the stage for a review of the development of Spanish and Portuguese economics beginning in the sixteenth century with the works of the Scholastics, the contributions of which “were some of the side effects of their musings on the spiritual salvation of human beings in all their activities, especially those related with dangerous trading activities completely divorced from the honorable, virtuous life in the countryside” (p. 78). Sadly, note the authors, Spanish economists in the eighteenth century in particular, while cognizant of European contributions, nonetheless produced little in the area of economic theory, “showing a noticeable preference for studies on applied economics” (p. 81).

The chapter on the development of economic thought in Germany focuses primarily on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with the occasional nod to the eighteenth, due perhaps to the fact that Germany as a unified nation-state was formed only in 1871. Of significance is the influence it was to have in the United States and Japan, where the transfer of German ideals were implanted in the universities and ultimately became the foundation for the emergence of the American welfare state. Sweden is something of a late-comer if one employs the metric of “printed works,” which date only from the early eighteenth century; prior to this, Swedish economics “was defined in its Aristotelian meaning as an Art of Household Management” (p. 96). English, French, and German, and later Austrian, influences are particularly noticeable in early Swedish economic thought into the early twentieth century, when an identifiable Swedish School emerged. Finally, economic thought in Russia and the Ukraine, combined here due to the common history, did not really come into their own until the nineteenth century; again, the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries saw the publication of legal, political, and religious texts presenting economic ideas.

Part II, the Americas, is comprised of six chapters – the United States of America (J. E. King), Canada (Robin Neill), Mexico and Central America (Richard Weiner), the Caribbean (Mark Figueroa), Spanish-speaking South America (Veronica Montecinos), and Brazil (Patrice Franko). While American economic thought may be said to antedate independence from Britain, King’s primary focus is on the development of economic thought from the early nineteenth through the twentieth century. The story has been told numerous times, but the presentation is nonetheless quite compelling. Canadian economic thought is inextricably entwined with that of the United States, with Canadian economists having held important posts in American universities. The chapter on Mexico and Central America focuses primarily on Mexico, noting the influence of outside forces on the development of economic thought until the twentieth century, when there came into being a Mexican variant, rooted in culture and history (p. 145). The Caribbean economies suffered greatly from colonial administrations; the approaches to economics in these societies vary greatly, from Keynesian to Marxist, focusing primarily on issues of development and administration. Economic thought in Spanish-speaking South America developed in a highly-politicized atmosphere, with the influence of the Catholic Church assuming a prominent role. Finally, Brazilian economics tends to pragmatism, with approaches tuned to the needs of the times.

Part III, the Middle East, contains five chapters — Turkey and the Turkic linguistic zone (Eyüp Özveren), Israel (Yuval Yonay and Arie Krampf), Arab-Islamic economics (S. M. Ghazanfar), Persia/Iran (Hamid Hosseini), and North Africa (Hamed El-Said). The chapter of Turkish economics is more an excursion into economic history than the history of economic thought, as much of Turkish economics was absorbed from outside. In Israel, Don Patinkin and the “Patinkin boys” assume a starring role in the Americanization of an “Israeli economics” (pp. 194-97). The Arab-Islamic and Persian/Iranian contributions are taken to have roots in the seventh and eighth centuries with the writings of Arab and Islamic scholars; indeed, many of these scholars were producing important, if neglected, works during the European Dark Ages! Finally, the history of the economics of North Africa — Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, and Sudan — “suggests that the impact of economic ideas as pure theory has (at least in the short-run) been limited,” with economic policies “often generated by factors outside the economics profession” (p. 238).

Part IV, Africa, includes three chapters — West Africa (Gareth Austin and Gerardo Serra), Southern Africa (Tidings P. Ndhlovu and Nene Ernest Khalema), and Angola and Mozambique (Steven Kyle). African economics in general is a development of and reaction to colonialism and dependence on western European ideals. In West Africa, competition developed between those who advocated the assimilation of Western economic ideas and those who advocated an indigenous West African model, and, following independence from colonial rule, there emerged a sort of pan-African model, incorporating elements of Leninist socialism (pp. 246-47) and the identification of backwardness with dependency (p. 250). In southern Africa, colonialism “imprisoned the African ways of understanding commerce, utilising indigenous economic ideas, traditions, beliefs and ideologies” (p. 266). In Angola and Mozambique the Marxist ideology that came to dominate following the collapse of Portuguese colonial rule “is virtually indistinguishable from general justifications for authoritarian extractive regimes of any political stripe,” and so the post-independence ideologies “are in many ways simply extensions of the old colonial regimes under new management” (p. 270).

Part V covers, in five chapters, the Asia-Pacific Region — Australia and New Zealand (William Coleman), China (Zagros Madjd-Sadjadi), Southeast Asia (Cassey Lee and Thee Kian Wie), the Asian Tigers (Takashi Kanatsu), and India (Balakrishnan Chandrasekaran). Again it is curious that no chapter appears on the development of Japanese economic thought. Coleman begins with the assertion that “any story of economic thought in Australia and New Zealand will necessarily tell of the attempt to plant and cultivate in uncleared ground the long developed vine of older societies” (p. 281), and concludes with the observation that “there is no Australia in economics any longer. Australian economics is at an end” (p. 290). With respect to China, it is culture and religion more than anything else that influenced the development of economic thought, with Confucianism and Taoism, legalism and Maoism, at various times competing for dominance (p. 295). Indonesia and Malaysia, representative, we are told, of Southeast Asia, developed under Dutch and British rule, respectively, and so there emerged “no singular or identifiable school of thought in these countries.” Such writings on economic matters as there were centered problems of “reconstruction and development,” and a concern with ethnic conflict (p. 312). The Asian Tigers — Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan — to varying degrees relied on state-directed development, with the government working in concert with the private sector to achieve high levels of industrial growth. Finally, culture has been a dominating influence in Indian economic thought, which is seen as being “based fundamentally on the liberty and freedom of individuals within the ambit of the family system” (p. 323). Chandrasekaran argues that any commitment to a unique, indigenous economics was abandoned after independence, with academic economics focusing on Marxism and neoclassicism (p. 374).

This is indeed an interesting project, one that by its nature requires a great degree of selection as to the material to be included. One may point to flaws in the coverage — obvious choices excluded, unusual ones given treatment; the choice is quite idiosyncratic. Yet in many of the offerings there is much to find that should provoke more extensive study.


Charles R. McCann, Jr. is a Research Associate at the University of Pittsburgh, and the author of Individualism and the Social Order and Order and Control in American Social Thought, both published by Routledge, and, with Mark Perlman, the two-volume Pillars of Economic Understanding (University of Michigan Press), among other publications.

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Subject(s):History of Economic Thought; Methodology
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):General or Comparative

Clashing over Commerce: A History of U.S. Trade Policy

Author(s):Irwin, Douglas A.
Reviewer(s):Eckes, Alfred E.

Published by EH.Net (May 2018)

Douglas A. Irwin, Clashing over Commerce: A History of U.S. Trade Policy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017. x + 860 pp. $35 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-0-226-39896-9.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Alfred E. Eckes, Jr., Department of History, Ohio University.
At a time when concerns about trade wars unsettle financial markets and engage media pundits, those seeking a deeper understanding of trade issues may choose to consult Douglas Irwin’s hefty volume. Prospective readers should be aware of the book’s strengths and limitations.

The author, a Dartmouth College economist, is interested more in the “formation of trade policy rather than the consequences of any particular policy outcome” (p. 4). He seeks to update economist Frank Taussig’s classic Tariff History of the United States, whose eighth edition was published in 1931. His approach involves explaining how changing regional economic interests and domestic political forces have impacted average tariff levels over more than two centuries. These changes transformed the tariff system during the 1930s and produced a consensus in Congress for lower tariffs.

The book has three distinct sections. The first focuses on the U.S. government’s reliance on tariffs from 1789 to the Civil War to generate revenue. Irwin argues that Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton was primarily concerned about securing adequate revenue for the new national government, not in establishing a program of high tariffs to protect infant industry. To promote industry Hamilton preferred subsidies to tariffs. Irwin also says that Adam Smith’s writings were known to the Founding Fathers and influenced early policy debates. While Irwin stresses Smith’s influence, he gives little attention to Friedrich List, the German economic journalist and railroad builder, who helped mobilize U.S. support for protection in the 1820s. List’s thinking later influenced the twentieth century mercantilist trade policies of Japan, China, and other developing countries.

A second section examines the rise of protective tariffs during the Civil War. This phase of restrictive tariffs continued with only brief interruptions until the Great Depression, as Northern industry sought to limit import competition. Irwin emphasizes that lobbyists representing affected industries, mobilized in Washington and bombarded Congress with requests for tariff protection. Here the author’s account seems one sided since he overlooks the countervailing influence of Cobden Clubs, funded and supported by British interests, eager to persuade U.S. officials to adopt freer trade policies. The historian Marc William Palen (2016, pp. 59-69) has shown that the membership of Cobden organizations, extended from President James Garfield to leading public figures, business leaders, and academics, including the renown international economist Frank Taussig, who became President Woodrow Wilson’s first chairman of the U.S. Tariff Commission.

Regarding the Hawley-Smoot Tariff (or Smoot-Hawley as many prefer) Irwin agrees that the act had little impact on the Great Depression. However, he believes that passage of the 1930 tariff spurred significant retaliation from trading partners. On this point we disagree. In May 1931 the State Department asked consular officials at 96 posts to report on foreign discrimination against U.S. exports, and little was reported. Irwin has apparently not taken into account diplomatic records in the National Archives that contradict his conclusion (see Eckes 1995, p. 125-29).

In a third section, Irwin emphasizes that the transition to a reciprocity-based trade policy, begun with Secretary of State Cordell Hull’s reciprocal trade program in 1934 and continued after World War II as the U.S. sponsored the GATT/WTO multilateral system, which flourished until recent years. Cordell Hull, a tariff-cutting enthusiast from rural Tennessee, was a single-minded proponent of reciprocal trade, and although Irwin notes that he had little influence on foreign policy during the 1930s he left a huge imprint on twentieth-century trade policy. His reciprocal trade program and the successor multilateral trade initiative under the auspices of GATT and the WTO can be credited to Hull’s vision and determination.

It is said that economist Paul Samuelson wore a green-eye shade to White House discussions on tax policy during the Kennedy administration. Irwin seems to have introduced the green-eye shade approach to tariff policy. His massive 860-page volume rests on detailed research on congressional debates and legislative proposals. His narrative is filled with information about obscure provisions of long-forgotten tariff bills. His bibliography lists a variety of relevant published materials, including memoirs of participants, and scholarly articles. He appears to have made excellent use of the data and secondary research of other economists. But, his 123-pages of bibliography and end notes expose some significant, and surprising, omissions.

Irwin has made little use of unpublished records in government archives and presidential libraries. Documents in these facilities offer an unexpurgated look at trade negotiations and policy implementation issues at the working level. They enable research historians to peer behind the spin in memoirs and to unearth discoveries that alter conventional wisdom. Another major omission involves contemporary newspaper accounts and periodicals. On-line databases such as and ProQuest’s American Periodicals now enable researchers to access easily a variety of primary sources, not examined extensively by scholars, on topics such as customs fraud and smuggling that may skew Irwin’s average tariff calculations.

In the nineteenth century, high tariffs invited extensive smuggling and customs corruption, subjects not examined in this book. In 1865, for example, Commissioner of Customs Nathan Sargent reported an extensive system of smuggling along the Canadian border from New Hampshire to Lake Superior. He said that hundreds of men of “pretended respectability” were secretly engaged in smuggling liquors, teas, silks, spices, laces and other light goods to evade payment of U.S. tariffs (see, for example, Buffalo Commercial, 1865). Researchers can find many other accounts of smuggling and customs fraud by using newspapers, periodicals, court, and Treasury records from the period. These detail a wide range of enforcement issues from piracy to customs fraud. Apparently, at the New York Customhouse, which processed two-thirds of U.S. imports after the Civil War, fraud was rampant and continued over an extended period. It involved undervaluation, kickbacks and bribery (see Cohen 2010 and 2015). As a result, many of the trade data seem suspect, and generalizations about tariff levels and the effectiveness of protection do not take into account the significance of pervasive corruption and circumvention.

Despite the claim on the book jacket describing it as the “most authoritative and comprehensive history of U.S. trade policy to date,” this book offers an incomplete account of U.S. trade history. The author gives relatively little attention to non-tariff issues, such as customs corruption, smuggling, and theft of intellectual property, which were present even in the founding years of the American republic. In the last hundred years — particularly, since the Great Depression — other non-tariff issues such as export controls and strategic trade, technology transfer, dispute settlement, and forms of managed trade that distort the global market place have gained in importance. It is worth emphasizing that Irwin’s focus on tariff levels largely overlooks some of the difficult issues of policy implementation, including the free rider problem growing out of Hull’s enthusiasm for the unconditional most-favored nation policy.

Examples of free-riding involve the integration of Japan and China into the GATT/WTO multilateral trading system. In the post-World War II period, a series of U.S. administrations used tariff liberalization as a tool to integrate former adversaries into the world trading system. In GATT accession negotiations with Japan the Eisenhower administration failed to open the Japanese market significantly for American manufactures and agricultural exports. Japan, however, upon entering GATT qualified for the lowest tariff levels in the American market. This facilitated the rapid growth of Japanese manufactured exports, while continuing to restrict U.S. exports to Japan. A similar asymmetry resulted from the Clinton administration’s negotiations for Chinese accession to the WTO.

Irwin’s book represents an impressive effort by an economist to survey U.S. tariff history, but it breaks little new ground. Many important areas of trade policy and implementation continue to invite the efforts of scholars with the discipline to undertake archival research and the training to employ the research methods of economics, history, and law.

Andrew Wender Cohen, “Smuggling, Globalization, and America’s Outward State, 1870-1909,” Journal of American History, 92:2 (September, 2010), 371-398.

Andrew Wender Cohen, Contraband: Smuggling and the Birth of the American Century (New York: Norton, 2015), 122-35.

Alfred Eckes, Opening America’s Market: U.S. Foreign Trade Policy since 1776 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995).

“Extensive Smuggling along Canadian Frontier,” Buffalo Commercial (July 13, 1865), 2.

Marc-William Palen, The ‘Conspiracy’ of Free Trade: The Anglo-American Struggle over Empire and Economic Globalization, 1846-1896 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016).
Alfred E. Eckes, Jr., is an emeritus professor in the Department of History at Ohio University, a former Chairman and Commissioner of the U.S. International Trade Commission and author of several books on U.S. trade policy.

Copyright (c) 2018 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator ( Published by EH.Net (May 2018). All EH.Net reviews are archived at

Subject(s):Government, Law and Regulation, Public Finance
International and Domestic Trade and Relations
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):18th Century
19th Century
20th Century: Pre WWII
20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

Current Federal Reserve Policy under the Lens of Economic History: Essays to Commemorate the Federal Reserve System’s Centennial

Editor(s):Humpage, Owen F.
Reviewer(s):Hausman, Joshua K.

Published by EH.Net (September 2016)

Owen F. Humpage, editor, Current Federal Reserve Policy under the Lens of Economic History: Essays to Commemorate the Federal Reserve System’s Centennial. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015. xxi + 386 pp. $110 (hardback), ISBN: 978-1-107-09909-8.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Joshua K. Hausman, School of Public Policy, University of Michigan.

This volume is a festschrift for Michael Bordo; it contains sixteen papers presented in December 2012 at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. The conference, organized with the help of Barry Eichengreen, Hugh Rockoff, and Eugene N. White, celebrated both Michael Bordo’s work and the Federal Reserve System’s centennial. It brought together leading economic historians and macroeconomists, and they produced a collection of fascinating papers.

The volume is made more than a collection of papers by the introduction, the first chapter, and the last two chapters. The substantial introduction by Owen F. Humpage (the book’s editor and senior economic advisor in the research department at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland) summarizes each of the papers in the volume and draws out their common themes. (For further summary of the work in this volume, see Williamson 2016.) The first chapter by Barry Eichengreen, “The Uses and Misuses of Economic History,” argues for both the usefulness and potential limitations of historical analogies for informing public policy. It is an ideal first chapter, since the relevance of history to current macroeconomic policy is a more or less explicit theme of all the papers in this collection.

The second-to-last chapter, “Monetary Regimes and Policy on a Global Scale: The Oeuvre of Michael D. Bordo,” by Hugh Rockoff and Eugene N. White summarizes Michael Bordo’s lifetime of work. It is a testament to Bordo’s work that this summary doubles as a review of the causes of the Great Depression, the proper role(s) of a central bank, the operation of the Gold Standard and Bretton Woods system, and the changing frequency of financial crises. Rockoff and White do a particularly nice job of reminding readers of Bordo’s work on the history of economic thought. They make a persuasive argument that Bordo’s attention to past generations of economists was often fruitful; for instance, Bordo’s important 1980 Journal of Political Economy paper on the determinants of price responses to monetary policy shocks grew out of earlier work on the thinking of John Elliot Cairnes (Bordo 1975).

The book fittingly concludes with a short essay by Bordo, “Reflections on the History and Future of Central Banking.” Bordo argues that central banks should confine the use of monetary policy tools to targeting the traditional, pre-2008, goals of low inflation and short-run macroeconomic stability. In the event of a financial crisis, central banks should act as a lender-of-last resort, but should not engage in bailouts of insolvent institutions. Other financial stability concerns, in particular asset prices, are best addressed with different tools. This argument is grounded in history: Bordo argues that macroeconomic outcomes have been best when central banks have acted in this way.

The body of the book contains twelve academic papers. The first, by Marvin Goodfriend (“Federal Reserve Policy Today in Historical Perspective”) traces both the development of transparency in Federal Reserve communication and the Federal Reserve’s focus on inflation. Relatedly, the second paper, by Allan H. Meltzer (“How and Why the Fed Must Change in Its Second Century”), marshals history to argue in favor of rules-based monetary policy.

The next two papers consider the lender-of-last-resort aspect of monetary policy. Mark A. Carlson and David C. Wheelock (“The Lender of Last Resort: Lessons from the Fed’s First 100 Years”) review the history of the Fed as a lender of a last resort; most novel may be the discussion of Fed actions between 1970 and 2000, and the ways in which these foreshadowed those during the 2008 financial crisis. Jon Moen and Ellis Tallman (“Close but Not a Central Bank: The New York Clearing House and Issues of Clearing House Loan Certificates”) reevaluate the effectiveness of clearing house loan certificates for liquidity provision during the pre-Fed National Banking Era (1863-1913). They argue that the New York Clearing House and its clearing house loan certificates were unable to provide the liquidity necessary to effectively address banking crises.

Forrest Capie and Geoffrey Wood (“Central Bank Independence: Can It Survive a Crisis?”) consider how the inevitable strains of a crisis affect central bank independence. Their conclusion is pessimistic. In reviewing the recent history of the Bank of England and the Federal Reserve, they conclude that the 2008 crisis has reduced monetary policy independence.

The next two papers by Peter L. Rousseau (“Politics on the Road to the U.S. Monetary Union”) and Harold James (“U.S. Precedents for Europe”) consider the long and often messy process through which the U.S. achieved political, fiscal, and monetary union. Rousseau draws an optimistic lesson from this history for Europe today, arguing that forces like those that brought about union in the U.S. are at work in Europe. By contrast, James is pessimistic, concluding that “American history shows how difficult and obstacle-filled is the path to federalism” (p. 192).

Christopher M. Meissner in his paper “The Limits of Bimetallism” is also interested in historical parallels to Europe’s current problems. He makes the intriguing — and convincing — argument that France’s transition from bimetallism to the Gold Standard was an example of policymakers’ mistaken belief in the sustainability of the status quo. He concludes that for analogous reasons “European Monetary Union as established in 1999 is very likely to face the fate of bimetallism” (p. 214).

In their essay “The Reserve Pyramid and Interbank Contagion during the Great Depression,” Kris James Mitchener and Gary Richardson consider an often-ignored aspect of the early 1930s financial crisis: interbank deposit flows. Using a remarkable new dataset, they show that in the early 1930s these deposit flows transmitted shocks to financial centers.

John Landon-Lane in his paper “Would Large-Scale Asset Purchases Have Helped in the 1930s? An Investigation of the Responsiveness of Bond Yields from the 1930s to Changes in Debt Levels” considers a counterfactual question: suppose that the Fed had undertaken quantitative easing in the 1930s; what would the effects have been? To answer this question, Landon-Lane examines the relationship between interest rates and large changes in outstanding debt. He concludes that the effect on interest rates of quantitative easing in the 1930s would have been similar to the effect of quantitative easing in recent years.

The final two academic papers relate to an important strand of Michael Bordo’s work: comparison of the U.S. and Canada. Ehsan U. Choudhri and Lawrence L. Schembri’s contribution (“A Tale of Two Countries and Two Booms, Canada and the United States in the 1920s and 2000s: The Roles of Monetary and Financial Stability Policies”) compares U.S. and Canadian monetary policy in the 1920s and 2000s. The description of Canadian monetary policy in the 1920s before there was a central bank will be useful for many. Angela Redish (“It Is History but It’s No Accident: Differences in Residential Mortgage Markets in Canada and the United States”) traces the current large differences between the U.S. and Canadian mortgage markets to differing institutional responses to the Great Depression.

This very brief review of the papers in this volume illustrates the diversity of topics considered. The diversity of methods is also noteworthy, ranging from a formal monetary model to cross-sectional econometrics and narrative evidence. This volume thus serves not only as a superb review of current lessons from monetary history, but also as an introduction to methods used by macroeconomic historians. This will be useful to students and practitioners alike.


Bordo, Michael David. 1975. “John E. Cairnes on the Effects of the Australian Gold Discoveries, 1851-73: An Early Application of the Methodology of Positive Economics,” History of Political Economy, 7:3, pp. 337-359.

Bordo, Michael David. 1980. “The Effects of Monetary Change on Relative Commodity Prices and the Role of Long-Term Contracts,” Journal of Political Economy, 88:6, pp. 1088-1109.

Williamson, Stephen D. 2016. “Current Federal Reserve Policy under the Lens of Economic History: A Review Essay,” Journal of Economic Literature, 54:3, pp. 922-934.

Joshua K. Hausman is assistant professor of public policy and economics at the University of Michigan. He is currently working on understanding the role of agriculture in the initial recovery from the Great Depression.

Copyright (c) 2016 by EH.Net. All rights reserved. This work may be copied for non-profit educational uses if proper credit is given to the author and the list. For other permission, please contact the EH.Net Administrator ( Published by EH.Net (September 2016). All EH.Net reviews are archived at

Subject(s):Financial Markets, Financial Institutions, and Monetary History
Geographic Area(s):North America
Time Period(s):19th Century
20th Century: Pre WWII
20th Century: WWII and post-WWII

Organizations in Time: History, Theory, Methods

Editor(s):Bucheli, Marcelo
Wadhwani, R. Daniel
Reviewer(s):Smith, Andrew

Published by EH.Net (July 2014)

Marcelo Bucheli and R. Daniel Wadhwani, editors. Organizations in Time: History, Theory, Methods. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014. xii + 338 pp. $83 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-0-19-964689-0.

Reviewed for EH.Net by Andrew Smith, Management School, University of Liverpool.

How should history be incorporated into the curriculum of business schools? What type of historical research should be published in top-tier management school journals?  What can mainstream organization studies scholars learn from the research methodologies of historians? These are some of the fundamental questions that this edited collection raises.

The appearance of this volume is timely, as the last five years have witnessed a “historic turn” in business schools. Until the 1960s, economic history and business history had an important place in business school teaching and research.  Many management scholars then decided to emulate research models developed in the hard sciences, which led to history becoming marginal in most business schools. History lost respect among positivistic management academics because historians made few broad theoretical claims, rarely discussed their research methodologies, and did not explicitly identify their independent and dependent variables. Historians in management schools became, effectively, disciplinary guests in their institutions.

The period from 2008 to the present has witnessed a revival of interest in history on the part of consumers of economic knowledge in a variety of academic disciplines, not to mention society as a whole. After the “Minksy moment” of the Global Financial Crisis, many readers turned to history to make sense of a chaotic present.  Classic works on financial history such as Kindleberger’s Manias, Panics and Crashes climbed on the Amazon popularity rankings, whole new books such as Reinhart and Rogoff’s controversial study began to influence policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic (Baker, 2013). Management schools were influenced by the zeitgeist, which meant that the historic turn called for by Peter Clark and Michael Rowlinson back in 2004 started to be realized (Rowlinson, 2013). Historical research began to appear in top-tier management journals.

It is now widely recognized that there needs to be more history in business school research and teaching. However, as Marcelo Bucheli and Dan Wadhwani note in the introductory essay, this apparent consensus obscures a lack of clarity about what a “historic turn” would, in practice, involve (p. 5).

This volume argues that the historic turn cannot simply be about going to the historical record to gather data points for the testing of various social-scientific theories, which is what scholars such as Reinhart and Rogoff do. Rather than being yet another device for allowing the quantitative social sciences to colonize the past, the historic turn should involve the adoption of historical methods by other management school academics. At the very least, people in the field of organization studies should borrow more tools from the historian’s toolkit.

Many of the contributors to this volume were trained in history departments and now teach in business schools. Indeed, only one of the contributors (Ken Lipartito) works exclusively in a history department. Two of the contributors (Howard Aldrich and Stephen Lippmann) are sociologists. Eleven of the contributors work in the United States, three are based at British universities, four are in Canada, and one works at a university in Turkey. The contributors range from a Ph.D. student to the holders of prestigious endowed chairs at Harvard (Geoffrey Jones) and MIT (JoAnne Yates).

Part I of the book, “History and Theory,” identifies the major philosophical differences between historical research and the forms of intellectual inquiry that have dominated management schools for the last five decades.  Repeating philosophical debates that economic historians had in the 1960s, qualitative scholars often argue that the aprioristic approaches taken in management schools are ahistorical and thus illegitimate, while other management academics complain that narrative historical research lacks the scholarly rigor associated with quantification.

The essays in Part II, “Actors and Markets,” suggest various ways in which historical research methods could be usefully applied in understanding business. In the opinion of the reviewer, this section of the book is the most important as it provides us with concrete proposals for future avenues of research.  Jeff Fear’s paper outlines five possible research methods for applying historical methods to understanding corporate change.  Fear stresses that researchers much take the social and historical embeddedness of organizations into account. Perhaps the most important of Fear’s comments relates to the need to understand the self-perceptions of economic-historical actors (p.178-79). The importance of studying individuals’ self-perceptions is also emphasized in the paper by Dan Wadhwani and Geoff Jones on historical reasoning in entrepreneurship research.  In a key passage that may be overlooked by some readers, Wadhwani and Jones outline a research agenda of “constitutive historicism” for scholars of business and management.  Constitutive historicism involves investigation of how economic actors’ perceptions of their own place in historical time shape their strategies (p. 208-210). The paper on industry emergence and industry life-cycles by David Kirsch, Mahka Moeen, and Dan Wadhwani focuses on the industry as the main unit of analysis. It argues that historical methods, particularly the use of analytical narratives, can complement more traditional positivist social-scientific explanations for studying the origins of industries and, crucially, the decisions that result in the non-creation of industries. The paper by Marcelo Bucheli and Jin Uk Kim calls on researchers to pay more attention to the antecedents of the organizations they study. This paper focuses on “the State” as a particular type of organization whose meaning is, in their view, dependent on historical context. Bucheli and Kim question whether it is appropriate to apply concepts of the State that were developed in modern Western environments to radically different cultures and historical periods.

Part III, “Sources and Methods,” examines the nature of historical research methods. The papers in this section of the book should be of interest to both academics and to the librarians and archivists who help academics to research. In fact, this part of the book should on the required reading list for all postgraduate students in archival studies and library science. Ken Lipartito’s essay will be particularly useful to librarians and archivists. The last essay in the volume, which is by Matthias Kipping, Wadhwani, and Bucheli outlines a research methodology for the integration of historical approaches into the study of organizations.  This research methodology incorporates key devices from the historian’s toolkit, namely intensive source criticism, triangulation, and hermeneutic interpretation (p. 306).

This important book ought to be on the shelves of every business historian. The essays in it are of a uniformly high caliber and will be useful to a wide range of academics and graduate students.  However, the book has several weaknesses that need to be addressed. First, while the book says a great deal about the research lives of academics, relatively few pages are given over to the question of precisely how history should be used in teaching undergraduate business students. A few chapters on curriculum design would have been welcome here, especially as many universities expect academics to deliver “research-led teaching.”

Another problem with this book is that it fails to acknowledge the fact that historical research as it is done in history departments is in the process of being transformed by new research technologies. The contributors mention that the discipline of history changed between the 1970s and the 1990s with the rise of social, cultural, and gender history (p. 149, 150, 172). However, the much more profound changes in the discipline that are currently being driven by technology go largely undiscussed here.  Digital Humanities research tools such as text mining/distant reading, GIS for historians, and social-network analysis are changing history departments. The contributors also should have paid more attention paid to the role of new technologies in driving past intellectual trends.  We know that the acquisition by universities of mainframe computers undoubtedly contributed to the so-called cliometric revolution in economic history (Whaples, 1991) by making it easier for scholars such as Fogel and Engerman to crunch numbers.  The use of the same mainframe computers likely encouraged the parallel trends towards quantification in business schools, although computerization is not mentioned in this book. It may be that the new research technologies, such as the Digital Humanities tools mentioned above, will contribute to the reversal of the trends of the 1960s and the legitimation of historical research in business schools. In fact, these tools may be crucial in maintaining the momentum of the historic turn in management studies.

The volume also says relatively little about how historical research reaches the end users of academic knowledge. These end users include the taxpayers who fund our research in the hopes of getting some sort of return. Business historians who use narratives are able to communicate with non-academics and thus have an advantage over other business-school academics, since narrative works and business biographies are accessible. Many businesspeople read business biographies and business-history books in their spare time. Ensuring the long-term viability of the historic turn in management schools will require thinking about the needs of stakeholders outside of the gates of the university.


Baker, Dean. 2013. “How Much Unemployment Was Caused by Reinhart and Rogoff’s Arithmetic Mistake?”  The Guardian,

Clark, Peter and Michael Rowlinson. 2004. “The Treatment of History in Organisation Studies: Towards an ‘Historic Turn’?” Business History, 46(3), 331-352.

Kindleberger, Charles P. and Robert Z. Aliber. 2011. Manias, Panics and Crashes: A History of Financial Crises. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Reinhart, Carmen M. and Kenneth S. Rogoff. 2009. This Time is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Rowlinson, Michael. 2013. “Management and Organizational History: The Continuing Historic Turn.” Management and Organizational History, 8(4), 327-328.

Whaples, Robert. 1991. “A Quantitative History of the Journal of Economic History and the Cliometric Revolution.” Journal of Economic History, 51(2), 289-301.
Andrew Smith’s publications include “A Successful British MNE in the Backyard of American Big Business: Explaining the Performance of the American and Canadian Subsidiaries of Lever Brothers, 1888-1914,” Business History (2013).

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Subject(s):Business History
Development of the Economic History Discipline: Historiography; Sources and Methods
Geographic Area(s):General, International, or Comparative
Time Period(s):General or Comparative