Proposal preview

GIS methods in economic history

This session proposes to gather scholars working on diverse aspects of economic history, growth, and development who make use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) methods to answer important questions and debates appertaining to these fields.

GIS debuted in 1962 with a conference entitled “Canadian Land Inventory”. This conference presented the first GIS data collected by the Canadian government to handle their natural resources, and despite using old methods for constructing the maps, it was during this conference that the potential of GIS was revealed. With the ability of personal computers to handle complex datasets, today GIS analysis is living up to its early promise.

Connecting history and geography, combining temporal and spatial components, it is a paramount tool nowadays in understanding patterns in the past. The expansion of GIS and its wide application to historical and economic historical problems during the last 20 years have demonstrated the importance of geographical and spatial data in understanding historical phenomena (Schaffer and Levin 2015).

For example, GIS was at the basis of papers studying the relationship between the development of railways and the distribution of population in the 19th and 20th century Europe (Henneberg, 2011), as well as analyses about the impact of new technologies introduced in Europe, like the new crops of the Columbian Exchange or the heavy plough in Medieval Europe (Nunn and Qian 2011, Berger 2016, Andersen et al 2015). Further on, pivotal studies on African development (Michalopoulos 2012) presented novel approaches for using this software, utilizing variables such as elevation and land quality to investigate linguistic diversity, as well as analyzing the role of pre-colonial ethnic institutions in development measured from satellite images of night-time light density.

GIS has been a vital and diverse tool, allowing researchers to analyze new dimensions of social and economic phenomena and greatly enriching our understanding of the past. Its use has lent itself to stimulating and innovative research ideas and expanded the scientific frontier. As researchers continue to innovate, it is important also to continue to come together to share new techniques that make it possible to tackle questions than were difficult to answer before.

Organizer(s)

  • Cristina Victoria Radu University of Southern Denmark cvr@sam.sdu.dk Denmark
  • Kathryn Gary Lund University kathryn.gary@ekh.lu.se Sweden
  • Christian Skovsgaard University of Southern Denmark chsko@sam.sdu.dk Denmark

Session members

  • Oded Galor, Brown University
  • Viacheslav Savitskiy, Brown University
  • Nathan Nunn, Harvard University
  • Paola Giuliano , UCLA Anderson
  • Stelios Michalopoulos, Brown University
  • Giorgio Chiovelli,
  • Elias Papaioannou, London Business School
  • Jeanet Sinding Bentzen, University of Copenhagen
  • Dan Bogart, University of California, Irvine
  • Eduard Alvarez Palau, Oberta de Catalunya
  • Oliver Dunn, University of Cambridge
  • Max Satchell, University of Cambridge
  • Leigh Shaw Taylor, University of Cambridge
  • Christian Skovsgaard, University of Southern Denmark
  • Peter Sandholt Jensen, University of Southern Denmark
  • Markus Lampe, Vienna University of Economics and Business
  • Paul Sharp, University of Southern Denmark
  • Thor Berger , Lund University
  • David Andersson , Uppsala University
  • Erik Prawitz, Research Institute for industrial economics
  • Thilo Huning , University of York
  • Humberto Laudares, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva
  • Ye Ma, University of Groningen
  • Herman de Jong, University of Groningen
  • Yi Xu, Guangxi Normal University
  • Keti Lelo, Roma Tre University
  • Warren Whatley , University of Michigan

Discussant(s)

  • Paul Sharp University of Southern Denmark pauls@sam.sdu.dk

Papers

Panel abstract

This session gathers scholars’ work which makes use of Geographical Information Systems (GIS) methods to answer important questions and debates on diverse aspects of economic history, growth, and development. The organizers are pleased to present a multidisciplinary session varied both in topic and in geographical coverage as papers include major themes from economic history, history, sociology, and political economy. This session brings together cutting edge research on diverse subjects ranging from classic topics in economic history such as the timing between economic growth and industrialization, more modern questions such as the impact of landmine clearing in modern Mozambique, and questions that are beyond time and place such as the ways in which climate and natural disasters shape cultures over generations. Several new datasets give insight into overlooked regions such as sub-Saharan Africa and strengthen available tools for regions including Canada, China, and European regions.

1st half

Climatic Roots of Loss Aversion

Oded Galor, Viacheslav Savitskiy

This research explores the origins of loss aversion and the variation in its prevalence across regions, nations and ethnic group. It advances the hypothesis and establishes empirically that the evolution of loss aversion in the course of human history can be traced to the adaptation of individuals to the asymmetric effects of climatic shocks on reproductive success during the Malthusian epoch. Exploiting variations in the degree of loss aversion among second generation migrants in Europe and the US, as well as across precolonial ethnic groups, the research establishes that consistent with the predictions of the theory, individuals and ethnic groups that are originated in regions in which climatic conditions tended to be spatially correlated, and thus shocks were aggregate in nature, are characterized by greater intensity of loss aversion, while descendants of regions marked by climatic volatility have greater propensity towards loss-neutrality.

This research explores the origins of loss aversion and the variation in its prevalence across regions, nations and ethnic group. It advances the hypothesis and establishes empirically that the evolution of loss aversion in the course of human history can be traced to the adaptation of individuals to the asymmetric effects of climatic shocks on reproductive success during the Malthusian epoch. Exploiting variations in the degree of loss aversion among second generation migrants in Europe and the US, as well as across precolonial ethnic groups, the research establishes that consistent with the predictions of the theory, individuals and ethnic groups that are originated in regions in which climatic conditions tended to be spatially correlated, and thus shocks were aggregate in nature, are characterized by greater intensity of loss aversion, while descendants of regions marked by climatic volatility have greater propensity towards loss-neutrality.

Understanding Cultural Persistence and Change

Nathan Nunn, Paola Giuliano

When does culture persist and when does it change? We examine a determinant of cultural persistence that has emerged from a class of models in evolutionary anthropology: the similarity of the environment across generations. Within these models, when the environment is more similar across generations, the traits that have evolved up to the previous generation are more likely to be optimal for the current generation. In equilibrium, a greater value is placed on tradition and there is greater cultural persistence. We test this hypothesis by measuring the variability of different climatic measures across 20-year generations from 500--1900. We find that populations with ancestors who lived in environments with more cross-generational instability place less importance in maintaining tradition today and they also exhibit less cultural persistence over time.

When does culture persist and when does it change? We examine a determinant of cultural persistence that has emerged from a class of models in evolutionary anthropology: the similarity of the environment across generations. Within these models, when the environment is more similar across generations, the traits that have evolved up to the previous generation are more likely to be optimal for the current generation. In equilibrium, a greater value is placed on tradition and there is greater cultural persistence. We test this hypothesis by measuring the variability of different climatic measures across 20-year generations from 500--1900. We find that populations with ancestors who lived in environments with more cross-generational instability place less importance in maintaining tradition today and they also exhibit less cultural persistence over time.

Acts of God? Religiosity and Natural Disasters Across Subnational World Districts

Jeanet Sinding Bentzen

Religiosity potentially affects everything from fertility and health to labor force participation and productivity. But why are some societies more religious than others? One possible answer is religious coping: Individuals turn to religion to deal with unpredictability. To investigate, this research combines a global dataset on individual-level religiosity with spatial data on natural disaster occurrences. A main finding is that individuals become more religious if their district was recently hit by an earthquake. The religious become more religious, and to a lesser extent some non-religious become religious. Churchgoing is less affected, which is consistent with the religious coping hypothesis. Even though the effect abates with time, data on children of immigrants reveals a persistent effect across generations. The results point to religious coping as the main mediating channel, as opposed to, for instance, economic insurance, modernisation, or migration.

Religiosity potentially affects everything from fertility and health to labor force participation and productivity. But why are some societies more religious than others? One possible answer is religious coping: Individuals turn to religion to deal with unpredictability. To investigate, this research combines a global dataset on individual-level religiosity with spatial data on natural disaster occurrences. A main finding is that individuals become more religious if their district was recently hit by an earthquake. The religious become more religious, and to a lesser extent some non-religious become religious. Churchgoing is less affected, which is consistent with the religious coping hypothesis. Even though the effect abates with time, data on children of immigrants reveals a persistent effect across generations. The results point to religious coping as the main mediating channel, as opposed to, for instance, economic insurance, modernisation, or migration.

Tordesillas, Slavery and the Origins of Brazilian Inequality

Humberto Laudares

This article examines the long-term effects of slavery, by focusing on Brazil, one of the largest importers of slaves. To deal with the endogeneity of slavery placing, we use a spatial RDD, exploiting the colonial boundaries between the Portuguese and Spanish empires in current day Brazil. We find that the number of slaves in 1872 is discontinuously higher in the Portuguese side of the border, consistent with this power's comparative advantage in this trade. We then show how this differential slave rate has led to higher income inequality of 0.103 points, 20% of average income inequality in Brazil. We also use the division of the Portuguese colony into Donatary Captancies. We find that a 1% increase in slavery in 1872 leads to an increase in inequality of 0.112. We find that more slave intensive areas have higher income and educational racial imbalances and worse public institutions today.

This article examines the long-term effects of slavery, by focusing on Brazil, one of the largest importers of slaves. To deal with the endogeneity of slavery placing, we use a spatial RDD, exploiting the colonial boundaries between the Portuguese and Spanish empires in current day Brazil. We find that the number of slaves in 1872 is discontinuously higher in the Portuguese side of the border, consistent with this power's comparative advantage in this trade. We then show how this differential slave rate has led to higher income inequality of 0.103 points, 20% of average income inequality in Brazil. We also use the division of the Portuguese colony into Donatary Captancies. We find that a 1% increase in slavery in 1872 leads to an increase in inequality of 0.112. We find that more slave intensive areas have higher income and educational racial imbalances and worse public institutions today.

'Getting to Denmark': the Role of Elites for Development

Christian Volmar Skovsgaard, Peter Sandholt Jensen, Markus Lampe, Paul Sharp

We explore the role of elites for development and in particular for the spread of cooperative creameries in Denmark in the 1880s. We demonstrate that the location of proto-modern dairies, introduced onto estates as part of the ‘Holstein System’ by landowning elites from Schleswig and Holstein in the eighteenth century, explain the location of cooperative creameries in 1890. We interpret this as evidence that areas close to estates which adopted the Holstein System witnessed a gradual spread of modern ideas to the peasantry. Moreover, we identify a causal relationship by utilizing the nature of the spread of the Holstein System.

We explore the role of elites for development and in particular for the spread of cooperative creameries in Denmark in the 1880s. We demonstrate that the location of proto-modern dairies, introduced onto estates as part of the ‘Holstein System’ by landowning elites from Schleswig and Holstein in the eighteenth century, explain the location of cooperative creameries in 1890. We interpret this as evidence that areas close to estates which adopted the Holstein System witnessed a gradual spread of modern ideas to the peasantry. Moreover, we identify a causal relationship by utilizing the nature of the spread of the Holstein System.

The State Built on Sandy Grounds: How Geography formed Brandenburg-Prussia

Thilo Huning

To further understand the link between taxation and the formation of state capacity, this paper employs an incomplete contract model of an agricultural society. Using province-level data of Brandenburg-Prussia from 1650–1697, I argue that the origins of its success lie in 17th century institutional reforms and geography, rather than the genius of its princes. These reforms benefited from a uniform and effectively taxable geography in their goal to integrate the Hohenzollern territories. They left behind a unique combination of a landed-nobility dependent on the military of a central state, and created the nucleus of the later Prussian state.

To further understand the link between taxation and the formation of state capacity, this paper employs an incomplete contract model of an agricultural society. Using province-level data of Brandenburg-Prussia from 1650–1697, I argue that the origins of its success lie in 17th century institutional reforms and geography, rather than the genius of its princes. These reforms benefited from a uniform and effectively taxable geography in their goal to integrate the Hohenzollern territories. They left behind a unique combination of a landed-nobility dependent on the military of a central state, and created the nucleus of the later Prussian state.

2nd half

Landmines and Spatial Development

Stelios Michalopoulos, Giorgio Chiovelli, Elias Papaioannou

Once laid on the ground, landmines may remain active for up to 50 years long after the cessation of hostilities, rendering landmine contamination a uniquely savage legacy of modern warfare. Despite the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on landmine removal by the international community no systematic research exists on the consequences of landmine clearance. We attempt to fill this gap by focusing on Mozambique, the only country so far that emerged heavily-contaminated from the civil war that ended in 1992 to being officially landmine-free in 2015. We exploit variation in the timing of demining across localities to assess its impact on local economic activity, as reflected in satellite images of light density at night. Recognizing the fact that removal of landmines in one locality may impact other regions through its linkages via the transportation network, we examine the both the local and aggregate consequences of landmine clearance.

Once laid on the ground, landmines may remain active for up to 50 years long after the cessation of hostilities, rendering landmine contamination a uniquely savage legacy of modern warfare. Despite the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on landmine removal by the international community no systematic research exists on the consequences of landmine clearance. We attempt to fill this gap by focusing on Mozambique, the only country so far that emerged heavily-contaminated from the civil war that ended in 1992 to being officially landmine-free in 2015. We exploit variation in the timing of demining across localities to assess its impact on local economic activity, as reflected in satellite images of light density at night. Recognizing the fact that removal of landmines in one locality may impact other regions through its linkages via the transportation network, we examine the both the local and aggregate consequences of landmine clearance.

The Africa Explorer: A GIS bridge between economists and historians

Warren Whatley

The African Explorer is a GIS database of spatial data on Africa. Currently it contains the extant data on precolonial Africa. The goal is to build a bridge between the specificity of historians and anthropologists and the generalizations of economists. Historians and anthropologists tend to produce local and regional observations. Economists, using GIS, have placed these local observations on a spatial grid, using regression techniques to study general patterns. Historians call the economists’ generalizations “abstractions” or “compressions” of history. Economists call them “origins” of historical processes and their “consequences.” And never betwixt shall meet. The Africa Explorer is designed to bridge this divide. Using GIS mapping capabilities, one can visualize the local and historical specificity of many of the generalizations discovered by economists. Examples are presented from the literatures on the slave trade, precolonial political “centralization,” and the relationship between the two, what historians call the Fage Effect.

The African Explorer is a GIS database of spatial data on Africa. Currently it contains the extant data on precolonial Africa. The goal is to build a bridge between the specificity of historians and anthropologists and the generalizations of economists. Historians and anthropologists tend to produce local and regional observations. Economists, using GIS, have placed these local observations on a spatial grid, using regression techniques to study general patterns. Historians call the economists’ generalizations “abstractions” or “compressions” of history. Economists call them “origins” of historical processes and their “consequences.” And never betwixt shall meet. The Africa Explorer is designed to bridge this divide. Using GIS mapping capabilities, one can visualize the local and historical specificity of many of the generalizations discovered by economists. Examples are presented from the literatures on the slave trade, precolonial political “centralization,” and the relationship between the two, what historians call the Fage Effect.

Growth before steam: A GIS approach to estimating multi-modal transport costs in England and Wales, 1680-1830

Dan Bogart, Eduard Josep Alvarez Palau, Oliver Dunn, Max Satchell, and Leigh Shaw Taylor

The large economic gains from steamships and railways are well accepted, but in England and Wales, there is evidence for transport improvements before steam. Road surfaces and gradients were improved, the inland waterway network expanded, and technology evolved in sailing ships and passenger coaches. The institutional environment also changed with wars and new methods of public finance. This paper estimates transport and trade costs between the most populous towns in 1680 and in 1830. We build a multi-model transport model of freight costs, fares, and travel times between towns. The lowest cost and time is identified using network analysis tools in GIS. Our preliminary results show substantial declines in freight transport costs and passenger travel times between 1680 and 1830. The model’s results also imply substantial productivity growth in transport, equaling close to 0.8% per year. Plausible assumptions imply a social savings of 10.5% of national income by 1830.

The large economic gains from steamships and railways are well accepted, but in England and Wales, there is evidence for transport improvements before steam. Road surfaces and gradients were improved, the inland waterway network expanded, and technology evolved in sailing ships and passenger coaches. The institutional environment also changed with wars and new methods of public finance. This paper estimates transport and trade costs between the most populous towns in 1680 and in 1830. We build a multi-model transport model of freight costs, fares, and travel times between towns. The lowest cost and time is identified using network analysis tools in GIS. Our preliminary results show substantial declines in freight transport costs and passenger travel times between 1680 and 1830. The model’s results also imply substantial productivity growth in transport, equaling close to 0.8% per year. Plausible assumptions imply a social savings of 10.5% of national income by 1830.

On the Right Track: Railroads, Mobility and Innovation During Two Centuries

Thor Berger, David Andersson, Erik Prawitz

We study the construction of the 19th-century Swedish railroad network and estimate its effects on innovation during two centuries. To address endogenous placement of the network, our analysis exploits the fact that the main trunk lines were built with the overarching aim to connect particular city centers, while at the same time considering construction costs. Estimates show that innovative activities increased substantially in areas traversed by the railroads: the number of active innovators increased and the average innovator became more productive. Exploring the effects on knowledge diffusion across space, our analysis shows that innovators residing in areas connected by the railroad start to collaborate more and over longer distances, especially with other innovators located along the railroad network. Finally, we show that the differences in innovative activities were intensified over the 20th century. Areas traversed by the historical railroads exhibit much higher rates of innovation today.

We study the construction of the 19th-century Swedish railroad network and estimate its effects on innovation during two centuries. To address endogenous placement of the network, our analysis exploits the fact that the main trunk lines were built with the overarching aim to connect particular city centers, while at the same time considering construction costs. Estimates show that innovative activities increased substantially in areas traversed by the railroads: the number of active innovators increased and the average innovator became more productive. Exploring the effects on knowledge diffusion across space, our analysis shows that innovators residing in areas connected by the railroad start to collaborate more and over longer distances, especially with other innovators located along the railroad network. Finally, we show that the differences in innovative activities were intensified over the 20th century. Areas traversed by the historical railroads exhibit much higher rates of innovation today.

The Web GIS of Rome in the 18th and 19th centuries

Keti Lelo

This presentation will illustrate the on-going project “The Web GIS of Rome in the 18th and 19th centuries” focusing on methodological questions and efficiency aspects. In the first part there will be a demonstration of the on-line platform “Rome in the 18th Century”, based on the cartographic work by G.B. Nolli of 1748. The Web GIS gathers cartographic, descriptive and iconographic information from different sources. It is possible to query the system on noteworthy places and visualize the results on the historical map and on the google map. Detailed descriptions are provided for demolished buildings and for archaeological sites. The system interacts with external GIS systems; therefore, it is possible to upload additional layers. In the second part it will be discussed the correct use of 19th century documentary sources available for Rome (cartographic, fiscal, administrative), focusing on their variability and reliability and on their integration within a GIS.

This presentation will illustrate the on-going project “The Web GIS of Rome in the 18th and 19th centuries” focusing on methodological questions and efficiency aspects. In the first part there will be a demonstration of the on-line platform “Rome in the 18th Century”, based on the cartographic work by G.B. Nolli of 1748. The Web GIS gathers cartographic, descriptive and iconographic information from different sources. It is possible to query the system on noteworthy places and visualize the results on the historical map and on the google map. Detailed descriptions are provided for demolished buildings and for archaeological sites. The system interacts with external GIS systems; therefore, it is possible to upload additional layers. In the second part it will be discussed the correct use of 19th century documentary sources available for Rome (cartographic, fiscal, administrative), focusing on their variability and reliability and on their integration within a GIS.

Measuring China’s Performance in the World Economy: A Benchmark Comparison between the Economies of China and the UK in the Early Twentieth Century

Ye Ma, Herman de Jong, Yi Xu

This paper provides the first estimates of purchasing power parity (PPP) converters from the production side between China and the UK for the early 1910s. It gives a new starting point to evaluate the economic development in pre-modern China during early industrialization since the late nineteenth century. The estimated PPPs for manufacturing industries provide relative levels of producer prices in China, necessary for the calculation of comparative output and labor productivity. These producer prices are calculated by the authors from an official Chinese industrial census. The 1910s estimate will also be used to obtain a better understanding of the industrial development during the first four decades of the twentieth century.

This paper provides the first estimates of purchasing power parity (PPP) converters from the production side between China and the UK for the early 1910s. It gives a new starting point to evaluate the economic development in pre-modern China during early industrialization since the late nineteenth century. The estimated PPPs for manufacturing industries provide relative levels of producer prices in China, necessary for the calculation of comparative output and labor productivity. These producer prices are calculated by the authors from an official Chinese industrial census. The 1910s estimate will also be used to obtain a better understanding of the industrial development during the first four decades of the twentieth century.