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Stefano Fenoaltea

Deirdre McCloskey, Richard Sylla and Gianni Toniolo contributed information and personal recollections to this In Memoriam. Christopher Hanes wrote it and bears responsibility for errors. McCloskey’s own obituary of Fenoaltea has been published in the PSL Quarterly Review (2020). Journal articles and books by Stefano Fenoaltea are listed at the end and referred to in the text by number in the list. References to publications by other people are given in the ordinary way.

            Stefano Fenoaltea died unexpectedly in Rome on September 14, 2020 of a previously undiagnosed cardiac condition, at the age of 77. He stood out for his brilliance and cheerful pugnacity in a generation of economic historians who did great work and were not averse to scholarly dispute.

            Fenoaltea was born in Italy and educated in European schools. He was graduated at Georgetown University (first in his class) in 1963 and received a PhD in Economics from Harvard in 1968. In the first two decades of his career he wrote several papers on the related topics of medieval manors and servile labor. In 1975 he published “The Rise and Fall of a Theoretical Model: The Manorial System” (4), a response to a paper by North and Thomas (1971) titled “The Rise and Fall of the Manorial System: A Theoretical Model.” North and Thomas had argued that serfs provided their labor to lords in an implicit contractual exchange for “the public good of protection and justice” (North and Thomas 1971, p. 778). Fenoaltea examined their argument and concluded that it was “empirically untenable…Their account of later developments is equally unsatisfactory, since it draws on a dubious interpretation of demographic and political history, and appeals to institutional constraints to an extent that is both empirically unjustified and analytically alarming” (pp 408-409). A few months later Fenoaltea published “Authority, Efficiency, and Agricultural Organization in Medieval England and Beyond: A Hypothesis” (5), which presented his own argument about the manorial system: “the advantages of demesne agriculture were attached specifically to the exercise of authority over the labor force” to “increase output by imposing the use of a superior technique” and reenforce “social roles and hierarchy” (p. 695). In 1976 came “Risk, Transaction Costs, and the Organization of Medieval Agriculture” (7). Here Fenoaltea attacked the argument of McCloskey (1975) that medieval peasants farmed scattered small plots in open fields in order to diversify plot-specific risk. McCloskey published a reply (1977); Fenoaltea replied to the reply (10). Both scholars appeared to enjoy themselves, and McCloskey “was driven to write” (in McCloskey’s words) an article that provided further evidence for his original proposition (McCloskey 1984). In “The Slavery Debate: A Note from the Sidelines,” published in 1981, Fenoaltea ran through the no-man’s land in the battle between Fogel and Engerman (1974) and their critics (David et. al., 1976), taking well-aimed shots at both sides. 

            In 1984 Fenoaltea published “Slavery and Supervision in Comparative Perspective: A Model” (15), perhaps his best-known work among English-speaking economic historians, which won the Cole Prize for the best article in the Journal of Economic History that year, and also the Economic History Association’s Fritz Redlich Prize for the best article in economic history worldwide in the past two years. In it, Fenoaltea hypothesizes that the “pain incentives” applied to slaves by the master’s threats of physical punishment could elicit great effort but not carefulness, giving slave labor a competitive advantage in “extremely land- and effort-intensive activities (for example, moving stones from here to there)” (p. 639). He shows how his hypothesis and related ideas can account for many otherwise-puzzling features of slavery from ancient times through the nineteenth century.

            Even better, in my opinion, is “Europe in the African Mirror: The Slave Trade and the Rise of Feudalism” (24) written in 1988 but not published until 1999.[1] Fenoaltea begins by developing a model to explain a puzzle about the transatlantic trade in African slaves. The puzzle is that the trade transported, at great cost, labor to a region with a high land-labor ratio and concomitantly high physical product of labor (the Americas) from another region with a high, perhaps higher land-labor ratio and physical product of labor (Africa). “The challenge is thus to develop a model capable of producing an efficient trade even though the population density is lower and the physical marginal product of labor higher at the source” (p. 124). The explanation proposed by Fenoaltea is that African elites had a demand for European-produced goods, while extremely high transportation costs within Africa prevented African elites from buying European goods with raw materials produced by slaves exploited at home in Africa. Thus, “Even if the backward area is relatively underpopulated,…it may export people to pay for the advanced products its elite wishes to consume but cannot obtain from domestic sources.” Meanwhile, “the profitability of slave exports means that the source area will tend to lapse into endemic petty warfare and lose the benefits of comparatively peaceful exploitation through taxes or tribute” (p. 124). After developing the model for Africa, Fenoaltea applies it to slave trades in Europe from classical times through the medieval era, and speculates that in “the early Middle Ages, when Christian Europe was itself backward relative to the Byzantine and Islamic worlds…. Europeans may thus have tended to export human beings to pay for advanced manufactures: the anarchy that plagued the West may have been due in primis to raids undertaken for the sake of obtaining captives” (p. 125).

            Fenoaltea’s papers in these areas are exemplars of a style once common, now rare in economic history, in which the author takes generally-accepted historical facts, presenting little if any further empirical evidence, and presents a model to explain the facts in words – no math – as the result of transactions costs and other fundamental economic forces along the lines of University of Chicago “Price Theory.” A paper in this style lives or dies on the author’s rhetorical skill and the originality and strength of his argument. If the paper succeeds, it is fun for the reader as well as the author.

            But these papers made up the smaller portion of Fenoaltea’s scholarship. Most of his career was devoted to a different kind of work. Starting with his PhD dissertation (1), Fenoaltea studied Italy’s economic development in the era between the formation of the Italian state in the 1860s and the First World War. For this he needed historical statistics on Italian output. At the time Fenoaltea started out reliable statistics of this type had already been constructed for the United States (Frickey [1947], Gallman [1960, 1966]). But the ones available for Italy were not as good, due partly to a dearth of the historical source material for Italy that was available for the U.S.[2] In order to study Italy’s economy, therefore, Fenoaltea constructed his own series on Italian output: first, indexes of industrial production; eventually, measures of GDP components. Fenoaltea continued this work through the rest of his life in cooperation with excellent scholars in the Bank of Italy as well as Italian academic institutions. He was still constructing new series and improving old ones when he died.

            The reader may wonder how well this work suited the author of “Slavery and Supervision in Comparative Perspective.” For most economic historians the construction of statistical series is not fun – perhaps not as bad as moving stones from here to there, but requiring an unpleasant combination of effort and care. Why did Fenoaltea keep at it?

            Certainly, it gave him opportunities for satisfying, not to say epic scraps, with some of the other scholars working on Italian statistics. It provided foundations for papers challenging existing views of Italian development which Fenoaltea published in prominent English- and Italian-language economic history journals (see list below) and several books (71, 72, 73, 74, 75). In “International Resource Flows and Construction Movements in the Atlantic Economy: The Kuznets Cycle in Italy, 1861-1913” (20, 1988), Fenoaltea used series he had constructed on construction in Italy to test an important hypothesis about the nineteenth-century development of America, Argentina and other new countries. It had been observed that construction, immigration and international capital inflows  in new countries were correlated with each other, and negatively correlated with construction in Britain, in “long swings” or “Kuznets cycles.” It had been hypothesized that the ultimate causal factor in these patterns was the migration flows: capital followed labor across the Atlantic. Italy was a natural experiment to test this. It was a capital-importer like the new countries but a country of emigration. It lost more population at times when new-country immigration was high. Fenoaltea showed that in Italy emigration was positively correlated with construction; construction was “tied to changes in the supply of foreign capital, and thus to British foreign investment – themselves attributable, it would appear, less to variations in domestic British investment opportunities than to changes in investors’ perception of the relative safety of investment in Britain and abroad” (20, p.607). “The Italian experience is thus not merely an exception to, and therefore destructive of, the unified interpretation of the Atlantic economy which attributes construction to migration and capital flows to construction. It suggests an alternative and equally unified interpretation, in which capital flows caused construction, and construction..caused migration” (p. 634). This paper has frequently been cited by economic historians interested in American development and international flows of labor and capital.[3]

            It is clear, however, that for Fenoaltea the construction of statistical series was not a dull task. It was an intellectual exercise that drew on all his knowledge of economic theory and of history – economic, political and technological. According to Gianni Toniolo, Fenoaltea believed:

quantitative reconstruction of the past is practically an unbounded task, even when limited in time and space. To him, the task was particularly challenging given the relative paucity of the original statistics. As a result of his work, Italy’s historical statistics for the years 1861-1913 are undoubtedly the most refined and complete of those for any country I know something about. The level of disaggregation by sector and area is extremely fine, the information about production technologies impressive.

Fenoaltea’s last book begins with a disquisition on the construction of historical economic statistics which “should be compulsory reading for all graduate students in economic history (even more so in economics!)” (Toniolo).[4] In it Fenoaltea lays out his method:

Invent the series you seek to construct, your initial best guess; but don’t stop there, the starting point matters little only if you move beyond it. Draw out the implications of your series as an applied economist would, recognizing technical relationships, the impact of trade, the substitution effects that can be inferred from the typically abundant evidence on relative prices, the income effects, where appropriate, that influence consumption; and set those implications next to the corpus of surviving “data,”  as best you can master it, as an historian would. You will soon enough find that your initial estimates violate “data” constraints, constraints that may be distant but are effective constraints all the same. Revise, rinse, and repeat; at the end of the process you will have a production series, for the “undocumented” industry at hand, that is reasonably tightly constrained by (the application of economic logic to) the historical evidence.

            So much for Fenoaltea’s work. What was the man like?

            Stefano was admirably slender and always appropriately dressed, una bella figura, often in a somewhat country-gentleman mode. It is impossible to imagine him fat and sloppy.[5] He was mischievous. He could not resist needling officious, smug or easy-to-offend people. He did not like to follow rules. He did not respect authority. In fact, he could barely tolerate it. He was entertaining in conversation, an excellent companion for dinner or a walk. He relished wit: like most academics he liked to hear himself talk; unlike many academics he liked to hear other people talk too. He was given to epigrams and prepared jokes, which could be forgiven because they were almost always good, and to amateur sociology (what economic historian isn’t?). A favorite topic was national characteristics, especially differences between Italians on the one hand and Americans, Canadians or Britons on the other.[6] A hint of his conversational style can be found in his articles and books:

Italy’s provinces are the rough equivalent of France’s departements; but where the latter are named after natural features, more barbarico, the former bear the proud names of their principal cities (59, p. 58).

The heirs of the Ancona group continue however to this day to analyse the cyclical fluctuations of the original Vitali series, either out of filial piety  or – in the absence of comprehensive alternative estimates – a Nelsonian talent for exploiting a blind eye; see most recently Delli Gatti et al. (2005) (36, fn. 6).

 In estimating times series, as in love and war, the most important thing is luck (29, p. 726).

Another [problem] is that the sources are opaque…that their hidden defects surface, rather like those of our former spouses, only with extended cohabitation” (75, p. 13)

            Amateur sociologists will want to trace Stefano’s character to his family background and upbringing. He was the son of Sergio Fenoaltea, an opponent of Italian fascism who spent time in Mussolini’s prisons and, after Mussolini’s fall, was a member of an important committee (Italy’s National Liberation Committee) that coordinated resistance to the Germans and cooperation with the allies. After the war Sergio Fenoaltea entered the Italian diplomatic service and eventually served in its top job, ambassador to the United States, from 1961 to 1967, during which Stefano was in college at Georgetown and graduate school at Harvard.[7] Stefano always spoke of his father with great respect and affection.[8] Sergio Fenoaltea remained resolutely pro-American even in the late 1960s when the Vietnam War was raging.[9] Stefano was just as pro-American. You could get him to criticize our clothing, manners and food but not our morals or institutions.

            While his father moved through the diplomatic service, Stefano was educated in French-language schools on the French national curriculum, which is strictly standardized, allowing easy transfers from school to school, and is highly regarded outside English-speaking countries. McCloskey says that Stefano “told me once that his high culture – novels, poetry, and so forth – was French.” Certainly, Stefano shared the French attitude that culture and education were virtues to be displayed rather than (as they are to Americans) sources of embarrassment. He was as fluent in Latin, French and of course Italian as he was in English, which may account for the frequency in his English-language publications of phrases in the other languages. However baffling, even annoying to the monoglot American reader, to Stefano these were simply le mot juste.

            Stefano’s lack of respect for authority was perhaps a form of instinctive anti-fascism, hence an act of filial piety, but his friends agree that whatever its source it was a hindrance to his career. At Harvard, his PhD advisor was not the famous Alexander Gerschenkron though Stefano’s dissertation was directly related to Gerschenkron’s research. According to Fenoaltea’s fellow graduate student Richard Sylla this was because “Stefano had a falling out with Gerschenkron. I never quite understood it, but apparently it had something to do with Stefano challenging some of Gerschenkron’s interpretations of Italian industrialization in the late 19th century, which led Gerschenkron to suggest/demand that he find another dissertation advisor.” According to Deirdre McCloskey, another Harvard student at the time, Gerschenkron “refused to work with him when Stefano questioned The Master’s views on the rate and sources of Italian industrialization. Doubtless Stefano was less than diplomatic about the disagreement.” This incident is a worse reflection on Gerschenkron than on Stefano, of course. Stefano appeared to hold no grudge.[10] When Stefano had himself become a senior scholar he was (in my experience) interested and helpful, rather than defensive, when challenged by a youngster.[11]

            However, it is an unfortunate fact that in academic life it is sometimes necessary to suck up. Stefano could not do that any more than he could turn his head around 360 degrees. Getting tenure was a problem. Stefano’s scholarship won him try-outs in many excellent American economics departments (including among others Penn and Duke) and a stint at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. But as of the mid-1990s “Stefano was the greatest economic historian of our cohort who had never gotten tenure” (Sylla).

            Then things took a happy turn. “In 1996, Stefano moved permanently to Italy, to chairs first at the University of Cassino, then at Brescia and finally, in 2003, at the University of Roma Tor Vergata…. He retired in 2013 and took up a visiting professorship at the prestigious Collegio Carlo Alberto (University of Torino)” (Toniolo). About the time Stefano moved to Italy he inherited a house his father had built on a hill outside Marino above the Alban Lake. He lived there for many years with his wife Maria Angela Pieche and their three children. His last book was dedicated to his recently-born grand-daughter.

Journal articles published by Stefano Fenoaltea

1. “Public Policy and Italian Industrial Development, 1861-1913,” Journal of Economic History XXIX, no. 1 (March 1969), pp. 176-179.

2. “Railroads and Italian Industrial Growth, 1861-1913,” Explorations in Economic History IX, no. 4 (Summer 1972), pp. 325-352.

3. “The Discipline and They: Notes on Counterfactual Methodology and the ‘New Economic History’,” Journal of European Economic History II, no. 3 (Winter 1973), pp. 724-746.

4. “The Rise and Fall of a Theoretical Model: The Manorial System,” Journal of Economic History XXXV, no. 2 (June 1975), pp. 386-409.

5. “Authority, Efficiency, and Agricultural Organization in Medieval England and Beyond: A Hypothesis,” Journal of Economic History XXXV, no. 4 (December 1975), pp. 693-718.

6. “Real Value Added and the Measurement of Industrial Production,” Annals of Economic and Social Measurement V, no. 1 (Winter 1976), pp. 111-137.

7. “Risk, Transaction Costs, and the Organization of Medieval Agriculture,” Explorations in Economic History XIII, no. 2 (April 1976), pp. 129-151

8. “On a Marxian Model of Enclosures,” Journal of Development Economics III, no. 2 (June 1976), pp. 195-198.

9. “Real Value Added Once Again,” Annals of Economic and Social Measurement VI, no. 1 (Winter 1977), pp. 133-134.

10. “Fenoaltea on Open Fields: A Reply,” Explorations in Economic History XIV, no. 4 (October 1977), pp. 405-410.

11. “The Slavery Debate: A Note from the Sidelines,” Explorations in Economic History XVIII, no. 3 (July 1981), pp. 304-308.

12. “The Growth of the Utilities Industries in Italy, 1861-1913,” Journal of Economic History XLII, no. 3 (September 1982), pp. 601-627.

13. “The Organization of Serfdom in Eastern Europe: A Comment,” Journal of Economic History XLIII, no. 3 (September 1983), pp. 705-708.

14. “Railway Construction in Italy, 1861-1913,” Rivista di storia economica I, International issue (1984), pp. 27-58, and “Le costruzioni ferroviarie in Italia, 1861-1913,” Rivista di storia economica I, no. 1 (giugno 1984), pp. 61-94.

15. “Slavery and Supervision in Comparative Perspective: A Model,” Journal of Economic History XLIV, no. 3 (September 1984), pp. 635-668.

16. “Public Works Construction in Italy, 1861-1913,” Rivista di storia economica III, International issue (1986), pp. 1-33, and “Le opere pubbliche in Italia, 1861-1913,” Rivista di storia economica II, no. 3 (ottobre 1985), pp. 335-369.

17. “Construction in Italy, 1861-1913,” Rivista di storia economica IV, International issue (1987), pp. 21-53, and “Le costruzioni in Italia, 1861-1913,” Rivista di storia economica IV, no. 1 (febbraio 1987), pp. 1-34.

18. “The Extractive Industries in Italy, 1861-1913: General Methods and Specific Estimates,” Journal of European Economic History XVII, no. 1 (Spring 1988), pp. 117-125.

19. “Transaction Costs, Whig History, and the Common Fields,” Politics & Society XVI, no. 2-3 (June-September 1988), pp. 171-240.

20. “International Resource Flows and Construction Movements in the Atlantic Economy: The Kuznets Cycle in Italy, 1861-1913,” Journal of Economic History XLVIII, no. 3 (September 1988), pp. 605-638.

21. “The Growth of Italy’s Silk Industry, 1861-1913: A Statistical Reconstruction,” Rivista di storia economica V, no. 3 (ottobre 1988), pp. 275-318.

22. “Servi e schiavi,” Rivista di storia economica IX, no. 1-2 (giugno 1992), pp. 45-48.

23. “Politica doganale, sviluppo industriale, emigrazione: verso una riconsiderazione del dazio sul grano,” Rivista di storia economica X, no. 1 (febbraio 1993), pp. 65-77.

24. “Europe in the African Mirror: The Slave Trade and the Rise of Feudalism,” Rivista di storia economica XV, no. 2 (agosto 1999), pp. 123-165.

25. “The Growth of Italy’s Wool Industry, 1861-1913: A Statistical Reconstruction,” Rivista di storia economica XVI, no. 2 (agosto 2000), pp. 119-145.

26. “The Growth of Italy’s Cotton Industry, 1861-1913: A Statistical Reconstruction,” Rivista di storia economica XVII, no. 2 (agosto 2001), pp. 139-171.

27. “Textile Production in Italy, 1861-1913,” Rivista di storia economica XVIII, no. 1 (aprile 2002), pp. 3-40.

28. “Production and Consumption in Post-Unification Italy: New Evidence, New Conjectures,” Rivista di storia economica XVIII, no. 3 (dicembre 2002), pp. 251-298.

29. “Notes on the Rate of Industrial Growth in Italy, 1861-1913,” Journal of Economic History LXIII, no. 3 (September 2003), pp. 695-735.

30. “Peeking Backward: Regional Aspects of Industrial Growth in Post-Unification Italy,” Journal of Economic History LXIII, no. 4 (December 2003), pp. 1059-1102.

31. “La formazione dell’Italia industriale: consensi, dissensi, ipotesi,” Rivista di storia economica XIX, no. 3 (dicembre 2003), pp. 341-356.

32. “Contro tre pregiudizi,” Rivista di storia economica XX, no. 1 (aprile 2004), pp. 87-106.

33. “Textile Production in Italy’s Regions, 1861-1913,” Rivista di storia economica XX, no. 2 (agosto 2004), pp. 145-174.

34. “Einaudi commentatore e protagonista della politica economica: aspetti dell’età giolittiana,” Rivista di storia economica XX, no. 3 (dicembre 2004), pp. 301-308.

35. “La crescita economica dell’Italia postunitaria: le nuove serie storiche,” Rivista di storia economica XXI, no. 2 (agosto 2005), pp. 91-121.

36. “The Growth of the Italian Economy, 1861-1913: Preliminary Second-Generation Estimates,” European Review of Economic History IX, no. 3 (December 2005), pp. 273-312.

37. “Economic Decline in Historical Perspective: Some Theoretical Considerations,” Rivista di storia economica XXII, no. 1 (aprile 2006), pp. 3-39.

38. “Mining Production in Italy, 1861-1913: National and Regional Time Series” (with Carlo Ciccarelli), Rivista di storia economica XXII, no. 2 (agosto 2006), pp. 141-208.

39. “The Chemical, Coal and Petroleum Products, and Rubber Industries in Italy, 1861-1913: A Statistical Reconstruction,” Rivista di storia economica XXIII, no. 1 (aprile 2007), pp. 33-80.

40. “Business Fluctuations in Italy, 1861-1913: The New Evidence” (with Carlo Ciccarelli), Explorations in Economic History XLIV, no. 3 (July 2007), pp. 432-451.

41. “I due fallimenti della storia economica: il periodo post-unitario,” Rivista di politica economica XCVII, no. 3-4 (marzo-aprile 2007), pp. 341-358.

42. “The Chemical, Coal and Petroleum Products, and Rubber Industries in Italy’s Regions, 1861-1913: Time Series Estimates” (with Carlo Ciccarelli), Rivista di storia economica XXIV, no. 1 (aprile 2008), pp. 3-59.

.

43. “A proposito del PIL, “ Italianieuropei, 2008, no. 1, pp. 165-169.

44. “The Growth of the Utilities Industries in Italy’s Regions, 1861-1913” (with Carlo Ciccarelli), Rivista di storia economica XXIV, no. 2 (agosto 2008), pp. 175-205.

45. “Social-Overhead Construction in Italy’s Regions, 1861-1913” (with Carlo Ciccarelli), Research in Economic History XXVI (2008), pp. 1-80.

46. “Construction in Italy’s Regions, 1861-1913” (with Carlo Ciccarelli), Rivista di storia economica XXIV, no. 3 (dicembre 2008), pp. 303-340.

47. “Shipbuilding in Italy, 1861-1913: The Burden of the Evidence” (with Carlo Ciccarelli), Historical Social Research XXXIV (2009), no. 2, pp. 333-373.

48. “Luigi Einaudi storico economico dell’età liberale,” Rivista di storia economica XXV, no. 3 (dicembre 2009), pp. 321-330

49. “Metalmaking in Italy, 1861-1913: National and Regional Time Series” (with Carlo Ciccarelli), Rivista di storia economica XXVI (2010), no. 1, pp. 121-153.

50. “The Reconstruction of Historical National Accounts: The Case of Italy,” PSL Quarterly Review LXIII (2010), no. 252, pp. 77-96.

51. “The Effects of Unification: Markets, Policy, and Cyclical Convergence in Italy, 1861-1913” (with Carlo Ciccarelli and Tommaso Proietti), Cliometrica IV (2010), no. 3, pp. 269-292.

52. “On the Structure of the Italian Economy, 1861-1913,” Rivista di storia economica XXVII (2011), no. 1, pp. 61-72.

53. “L’industria e l’economia nelle province dell’Italia liberale: tra storia e geografia” (with Carlo Ciccarelli), Semestrale di Studi e Ricerche di Geografia XXIII (2011), no. 2, pp. 31-46.

54 “Lo sviluppo economico italiano dal Risorgimento alla Grande Guerra,” Annali della Fondazione Giuseppe di Vittorio, 2011, pp. 213-227.

55. “The Rail-guided Vehicles Industry in Italy, 1861-1913: The Burden of the Evidence” (with Carlo Ciccarelli), Research in Economic History XXVIII (2012), pp. 43-115.

56. “The Growth of the Italian Economy, 1861-1913: The Expenditure Side Re- (and De-) constructed,” Rivista di storia economica XXVIII (2012), no. 2, pp. 285-318.

57 “La cliometria e l’unificazione italiana: bollettino dal fronte” (with Carlo Ciccarelli), Meridiana. Rivista di storia e scienze sociali, no. 73-74 (2012), pp. 258-266.

58 “La cantieristica in Italia, 1861-1913: una ricostruzione quantitativa” (with Carlo Ciccarelli), Bollettino dell’Associazione Italiana Documentazione Marittima e Navale, no. 26 (2012), pp. 129-154.

59. “Through the Magnifying Glass: Provincial Aspects of Industrial Growth in Post- Unification Italy” (with Carlo Ciccarelli), Economic History Review LXVI (2013), no. 1, pp. 57-85.

60. “The Non-metallic Mineral Products Industries in Italy, 1861-1913: National and Regional Time Series” (with Carlo Ciccarelli), Rivista di storia economica XXIX (2013), no. 3, pp. 267-317.

61. “The Measurement of Production Movements: Lessons from the General Engineering Industry in Italy, 1861-1913,” Explorations in Economic History 57 (2015), pp. 19-37.

62. “Industrial Employment in Italy, 1911: The Burden of the Census Data,” Rivista di storia economica XXXI (2015), no. 2, pp. 225-246.

63. “The Measurement of Production: Lessons from the Engineering Industry in Italy, 1911,” Research in Economic History XXXII (2016), pp. 73-145.

64. “Fenoaltea on Industrial Employment in 1911: A Rejoinder,” Rivista di storia economica XXXI I (2016), no. 1, pp. 113-117.

65. “Understanding the Ancient Near Eastern Economy: A Note from the Sidelines,” Rivista di storia economica XXXII (2016), no. 3, pp. 403-415.

66. “The Engineering Industry in Italy’s Regions, 1861-1913: A Statistical Reconstruction”, Rivista di storia economica XXXIII (2017), no. 2, pp. 159-246.

67. “The Growth of Italy’s Apparel Industry, 1861-1913: A Statistical Reconstruction,” Rivista di storia economica XXXIII (2017), no. 3, pp. 315-350.

68. “The Backlash to Globalization: Some Further Thoughts,” Annals of the Fondazione Luigi Einaudi LII (2018), no. 1, pp. 15-20.

69. “Italy in the Market for Seagoing Vessels, 1861-1913: Domestic production, Imports, and Exports,” Rivista di storia economica (in press).

70. “Spleen: The Failures of the Cliometric School,” Annals of the Fondazione Luigi Einaudi (forthcoming).

Books published by Stefano Fenoaltea

71. L’economia italiana dall’Unità alla Grande Guerra, pp. viii, 339 (Rome-Bari: Laterza, 2006; ISBN: 88-420-7925-1).

72. La produzione industriale delle regioni d’Italia, 1861-1913: una ricostruzione quantitativa. 1. Le industrie non manifatturiere (with Carlo Ciccarelli), pp. xlviii, 499 (Rome: Banca d’Italia, 2009).

73. The Reinterpretation of Italian Economic History: from Unification to the Great War, pp. xxi, 296 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011; ISBN: 978-0-521-19238-5).

74. La produzione industriale delle regioni d’Italia, 1861-1913: una ricostruzione quantitativa. 2. Le industrie estrattivo-manifatturiere (with Carlo Ciccarelli), pp. vi, 677 (Rome: Banca d’Italia, 2014).

75. Reconstructing the Past: Revised Estimates of Italy’s Product, 1861-1913. (Turin: Fondazione Luigi Einaudi, 2020.

Other references

David, Paul A. , Herbert G. Gutman, Richard Sutch, Peter Temin and Gavin Wright. Reckoning with Slavery. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.

Fogel, Robert William and Engerman, Stanley L. Time on the Cross: the Economics of American Negro Slavery. Boston: Little, Brown 1974.

Frickey, Edwin. Production in the United States, 1860-1914. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1947.

Gallman, Robert E. “Commodity Output, 1839-1899.” In William N. Parker, ed. Trends in the American Economy in the Nineteenth century. Studies in Income and Wealth, Volume 24. Princeton: Princeton Univesity Press for NBER, 1960.

— “Gross National Product in the United States, 1834-1909.” In Conference on Research in Income and Wealth, Output, Employment and Productivity in the United States after 1800. New York: Columbia University Press for NBER, 1966.

Gerschenkron, Alexander. ‘Notes on the Rate of Industrial Growth in Italy, 1881-1913.” Journal of Economic History, December 1955, 15 (4): 360-375.

McCloskey, D.N. “The Persistence of English Common Fields.” In William N. Parker and E.L. Jones, Eds., European Peasants and Their Markets. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975.

— “Fenoaltea on Open Fields: A Comment.” Explorations in Economic History, 1977, 14 (4): 402-404.

— and John Nash.”Corn at Interest: The Extent and Cost of Grain Storage in Medieval England.”

American Economic Review, March 1984, 74(1): 174-187

— “Stefano Fenoaltea (1943-2020).” PSL Quarterly Review, December 2020, 73(5).

Morgenstern, Oskar. On the Accuracy of Economic Observations. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1963.

North, Douglass and Robert Thomas. “The Rise and Fall of the Manorial System: A Theoretical Model.” Journal of Economic History, December 1971, 31 (4): 777-803.


[1] In a footnote to the 1999 publication Fenoaltea explains that the article is the same as the 1988 paper and “unforeseen commitments have delayed both the publication of the volume developing the analysis of the African slave trade and, perhaps sine die, the intended further research on early medieval Europe” (p. 123). According to Gianni Toniolo, editor of the journal in which the paper was eventually published (Rivista di Storia Economica), Stefano had signed a contract for the book with Cambridge University Press but “had hardly even begun to write” it.

[2] Fenoaltea describes the development of Italian historical production and GDP statistics in 73 (chapter 1) and  75 (chapter 3). Late-nineteenth century America was full of institutions that gathered economic information, such as active state and local governments, trade associations and business-oriented newspapers, not to mention the U.S. Bureau of the Census. Britain resembled the U.S. to some degree in this respect. Italy, along with most other continental countries, did not.  

[3]It was required reading in graduate economic history classes taught by Peter Lindert and Jeffrey Williamson, at least.

[4]I agree with Toniolo. In my fantasies, it and Morgenstern (1963) are readings in a half-semester graduate economics core course called “Data.” 

[5]Think of a cheetah.  Try to imagine a fat, sloppy cheetah. You can’t. That is what I mean.

[6] A rough quote on the subject of litter in parks: “In America, public property is everyone’s property; in Italy, public property is no one’s property.”  Claiming to speak from personal experience, Stefano said that Italian high-school soccer players took showy shots whether or not they had a realistic chance of scoring, while British/American/ Canadian kids passed the ball to guys in good positions.

[7] Here is the place for an excellent story about Stefano told by Richard Sylla, who was in graduate school with Stefano. “I invited him to have dinner one weekend with my wife and me at our apartment….He said “I’m not sure about my plans for the weekend. I haven’t decided yet whether I should stay in Cambridge and socialize with my intellectual equals, or go to Washington and intellectualize with my social equals.”

[8] Soon after I first met Stefano he showed me, with pride, his library of classic economics books from the 1880s-1930s (think Edgeworth, Marshall, Pigou, Keynes). Stefano said it had been collected by his father “who had a degree in economics.” That was all he told me about his father at the time but I got the impression that from Stefano’s point of view  the connection between his father and economics conferred dignity on economics.  

[9] According to Sergio Fenoaltea’s New York Times obituary, he resigned as ambassador to America in 1967 at a time when he “seemed to disagree with his Government, particularly with what he felt was Foreign Minister Amintore Fanfani’s lukewar commitment to the North American  Treaty Organization.”

[10]Presumably, one of the reasons Gerschenkron refused to oversee Fenoaltea’s dissertation was that Fenoaltea was constructing an index of Italian industrial production for 1861-1913. Gerschenkron had already constructed such an index. Fenoaltea’s index pointed to different conclusions about Italian development. According to Toniolo, “Gerschenkron did not take it lightly and Stefano had to find himself new dissertation supervisors.” Gerschenkron’s index had been published it in 1955 in an article titled “Notes on the Rate of Industrial Growth in Italy,1881-1913′ (Gerschenkron 1955). In 2005 Stefano published an article with exactly the same title in the same journal (29). In it he wrote “The title of this piece is of course a recent copy of an Old Master…. Alexander Gerschenkron’s classic article,” and counted the years that “have passed since the present writer began unwarily to tread in his teacher’s footsteps…. As my contemporaries will recall, the footsteps I stepped in had not quite been vacated by Gerschenkron’s own feet.”

[11] When I was an assistant professor, about 1990, one of the first papers I wrote presented a hypothesis to explain the distribution of slave labor across occupations and economic sectors. It was different from, and could have been seen as opposed to, Stefano’s argument in “Slavery and Supervision in Comparative Perspective” (15).  Despite my appalling ignorance on the subject Stefano talked to me about it for many days, apparently with pleasure. Without him the paper would have been much worse.