Proposal preview

Indigenous people in economic history

Economic history of the developing world has undergone an impressive revitalization over the past decade. What is significant about this body of scholarly work is the systematic use of quantitative data to shed new light on the economic past. One strand of this renaissance of research uses aggregated macro-economic variables – production, taxation, and exports – published in colonial reports and available in the archives of the colonizer. These contributions are important but hampered by some limitations: because the figures are aggregated, often at the country level, they lack regional variation; because they provide only one observation annually and many confounding factors are usually at work at the national level, they rarely allow for hypothesis testing that identifies causes; and because primacy is given either to figures for settler activities or, in non-settler colonies, to figures for the formal colonial economy, such as cash crop production or urban workers, they fail to go beyond the limited scope of the colonial authority.
The emphasis is now shifting towards understanding the colonial experience from below. Economic historians are increasingly turning to archives: large data sets at the individual or household level. These are not survey data in the usual sense. Often, information was collected for administrative purposes orthogonal to its use for researchers today. Attestation records of soldiers and police officers, for example, which list the individuals’ heights and other biographical information, are used as proxies for investigating living standards, and marriage records in mission station archives, which list age-at-marriage of converts, are used to investigate changing demographics and social trends, such as urbanization, during colonial times.
While the greater interest in economic history from below is welcome, it should be noted that the use of quantifiable micro-level evidence also raises important questions about those groups not well documented in colonial records. Anthropometric investigations, for example, may suffer from sample selection bias. This is not to discredit these and other historical data sources, nor to suggest that the authors are unaware of these limitations. But, in general, economic historians have sidestepped this problem in one of two ways: they ignore it, or they narrow the inference drawn from the results to apply to the sample only. Yet both strategies are problematic for methodological and moral reasons: by excluding the missing people, we risk reproducing the views of the colonial authorities or the European economic elite.
Missing people are not only of concern for colonial history. Our knowledge about indigenous people in North America and Latin America, for example, is equally limited, especially for the pre-Columbian period. Historians have to rely mainly on archaeological evidence, with the implication that they are better equipped to analyse pre-Columbian political systems than the lives of the people whose labour upheld those systems. For the post-Columbian period, it is commonly assumed, or has been until recently, that the indigenous people, especially in the hacienda-based rural economies, played a negligible role as their numbers had effectively been reduced by European ‘guns, germs, and steel’. An emerging literature is complicating these broad assumptions.
The aim of this session is to bring together scholars working on the economic histories of indigenous people. We have no regional or period preference. Papers on all aspects of indigenous economies, frontier economies, interactions between settler and indigenous peoples, cross-regional comparisons, and environmental, social, political or legislative aspects of indigenous people are welcome. We especially hope to shed light on new quantitative tools and novel data sets to investigate the economic histories of indigenous peoples.

Organizer(s)

  • Johan Fourie Stellenbosch University johanf@sun.ac.za South Africa
  • Ann Carlos University of Colorado-Boulder ann.carlos@colorado.edu USA
  • Erik Green University of Lund erik.green@ekh.lu.se Sweden

Session members

  • Justin Bucciferro, Eastern Washington University
  • Javier Arnaut, University of Greenland
  • Mattia Bertazzini, London School of Economics
  • Dustin Frye, Vassar College
  • Aldo Elizalde, University of Glasgow
  • Leigh Gardner, London School of Economics
  • Calumet Links, Stellenbosch University

Discussant(s)

Papers

Panel abstract

1st half

Reassessing the Size of pre-Columbian Populations in the Pacific Northwest United States

Justin Bucciferro

The Indigenous peoples of the intermontane semi-arid Plateau culture area, situated in the Columbia River basin of the Pacific Northwest, were among the last in the contiguous United States to have been contacted by Europeans. Lewis and Clark recorded a combined headcount of sixty thousand in 1805 (now believed closer to eighty thousand), yet the size of the population three centuries earlier – before the adoption of the horse and waves of epidemics – remains a mystery. The author estimates the pre-Columbian carrying capacity of twenty groups based on hunting, fishing, and gathering, using a linear programming model where yields are optimized given the extant technology and seasonal availability. The aboriginal population is found to have easily exceeded one hundred thousand, and plausibly several times more, at once emphasizing the extent of demographic collapse and unreliability of contemporary estimates. Native groups rationally allocated resources, yet their astute management has traditionally...

The Indigenous peoples of the intermontane semi-arid Plateau culture area, situated in the Columbia River basin of the Pacific Northwest, were among the last in the contiguous United States to have been contacted by Europeans. Lewis and Clark recorded a combined headcount of sixty thousand in 1805 (now believed closer to eighty thousand), yet the size of the population three centuries earlier – before the adoption of the horse and waves of epidemics – remains a mystery. The author estimates the pre-Columbian carrying capacity of twenty groups based on hunting, fishing, and gathering, using a linear programming model where yields are optimized given the extant technology and seasonal availability. The aboriginal population is found to have easily exceeded one hundred thousand, and plausibly several times more, at once emphasizing the extent of demographic collapse and unreliability of contemporary estimates. Native groups rationally allocated resources, yet their astute management has traditionally been overlooked.

Unfreezing colonial accounts: new evidence on social mobility in nineteenth-century Greenland

Javier L. Arnaut and Tina Kûitse

The Danish colonial project in Greenland during the nineteenth century has been subject to a polarizing debate in the current Danish and Greenlandic public sphere. On the one hand, there are observers depicting the colonial administration as a benevolent and socially-inclusive, whereas others regard it as a socially-exclusive regime. Using a newly collected dataset of Protestant mission’s marriage registers from four West Greenlandic towns (Nuuk, Qaqortoq, Qeqertasuaq and Aasiaat) this paper investigates empirically the hypothesis whether Greenlanders experienced an upward intergenerational occupational mobility over the colonial period. The analysis identifies fathers and sons (groom) occupational attainment to document quantitatively how the structure of the labor market changed over time. We discuss how the colonial labor market became a key ladder for social mobility after the introduction of administrative reforms and a new institutional agenda in the second half of the nineteenth century. We add to the literature by providing further...

The Danish colonial project in Greenland during the nineteenth century has been subject to a polarizing debate in the current Danish and Greenlandic public sphere. On the one hand, there are observers depicting the colonial administration as a benevolent and socially-inclusive, whereas others regard it as a socially-exclusive regime. Using a newly collected dataset of Protestant mission’s marriage registers from four West Greenlandic towns (Nuuk, Qaqortoq, Qeqertasuaq and Aasiaat) this paper investigates empirically the hypothesis whether Greenlanders experienced an upward intergenerational occupational mobility over the colonial period. The analysis identifies fathers and sons (groom) occupational attainment to document quantitatively how the structure of the labor market changed over time. We discuss how the colonial labor market became a key ladder for social mobility after the introduction of administrative reforms and a new institutional agenda in the second half of the nineteenth century. We add to the literature by providing further evidence on the link between historical social mobility and the emergence of inclusive institutions in an Arctic indigenous society.

Expulsions of European farmers, productivity shocks and indigenous responses: evidence from Italian Libya, 1930 – 2005

Mattia Bertazzini

By looking at the repatriation of Italian cultivators from Libya, this paper investigates the direction and persistence of the shock caused by the expulsion of white farmers on the country’s agricultural sector, with broader relevance for de-colonization dynamics in settler economies. I construct a novel district-level dataset containing information on cereal production (barley and wheat) and population for 4 periods (1939, 1960, 1974 and 2005). I exploit the expulsions of white farmers in 1942 and 1970, from Cyrenaica and Tripolitania respectively, as sources of exogenous variation in a difference-in-difference framework. The resulting estimates show a sharp collapse of cereals production immediately following the expulsion, both in terms of total output and productivity. However, in the medium and long-run (t+2 and t+3), treated location regained their advantage in agricultural production. This, on the one hand, shows path-dependency of colonial intensive farming over time while, on the other, it emphasizes a quick...

By looking at the repatriation of Italian cultivators from Libya, this paper investigates the direction and persistence of the shock caused by the expulsion of white farmers on the country’s agricultural sector, with broader relevance for de-colonization dynamics in settler economies. I construct a novel district-level dataset containing information on cereal production (barley and wheat) and population for 4 periods (1939, 1960, 1974 and 2005). I exploit the expulsions of white farmers in 1942 and 1970, from Cyrenaica and Tripolitania respectively, as sources of exogenous variation in a difference-in-difference framework. The resulting estimates show a sharp collapse of cereals production immediately following the expulsion, both in terms of total output and productivity. However, in the medium and long-run (t+2 and t+3), treated location regained their advantage in agricultural production. This, on the one hand, shows path-dependency of colonial intensive farming over time while, on the other, it emphasizes a quick adoption of modern farming techniques by indigenous cultivators after the removal of white settlers.

Alaska’s Reindeer Games: Native Assimilation and Economic Development

Catherine Massey, Ann Carlos and Brian Marein

For centuries, pre-modern agrarian societies lived with the threat of scarcity of famine when a poor harvest meant less food or more expensive food and two poor harvests in a row could mean famine and death. Pre-modern agrarian societies were not alone in facing periods of surplus and deficit; Native American hunter-gatherer societies too faced the same threat. Despite moving across the landscape following the seasons and the food supplies, winter posed a particular danger for aboriginal groups in the sub-arctic and arctic north. This was observed by Alaskan missionaries in the 1890s, who believed Native Alaskans were ill equipped to cope with periods of scarcity. This paper examines what we believe to be the first such program to provide live reindeer to Native Alaskans developed in 1891. Reindeer, imported from Russia, were intended to provide a dependable source of cash income, food, and employment in rural Native Alaskan villages....

For centuries, pre-modern agrarian societies lived with the threat of scarcity of famine when a poor harvest meant less food or more expensive food and two poor harvests in a row could mean famine and death. Pre-modern agrarian societies were not alone in facing periods of surplus and deficit; Native American hunter-gatherer societies too faced the same threat. Despite moving across the landscape following the seasons and the food supplies, winter posed a particular danger for aboriginal groups in the sub-arctic and arctic north. This was observed by Alaskan missionaries in the 1890s, who believed Native Alaskans were ill equipped to cope with periods of scarcity. This paper examines what we believe to be the first such program to provide live reindeer to Native Alaskans developed in 1891. Reindeer, imported from Russia, were intended to provide a dependable source of cash income, food, and employment in rural Native Alaskan villages. Using village surveys from the late 1930s, we find that households living in villages where reindeer herding was practiced had lower household income than households living in villages without reindeer, and no statistically significant differences in asset holdings, debt, or living conditions. However, on the intensive margin, greater numbers of per capita reindeer were associated with greater asset holdings, less debt, and better sanitary conditions of the home.

2nd half

Local versus Central Governance: Long-Run Effects of Federal Oversight over American Indian Reservations

Dustin Frye and Dominic Parker

This paper studies the decentralization of governance across American Indian reservations and measure the long-run development differences for reservations that were granted less sovereignty through the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA). To mitigate selection concerns regarding IRA adoption, we exploit IRA voting results by restricting the analysis to narrowly determined elections. Using a newly created panel of reservation income and inequality from 1918 to 2010, our results indicate that IRA adoption stifled development in the decades following adoption. This led to persistent differences in per capita income growth through the majority of the twentieth century. Additional legislation in the 1970s and 1980s expanded tribal sovereignty for IRA reservations; as a result, income differences diminish by 2010. Taken together these results indicate that decentralized governance and the expansion of tribal sovereignty is an important component for economic growth on American Indian reservations.

This paper studies the decentralization of governance across American Indian reservations and measure the long-run development differences for reservations that were granted less sovereignty through the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA). To mitigate selection concerns regarding IRA adoption, we exploit IRA voting results by restricting the analysis to narrowly determined elections. Using a newly created panel of reservation income and inequality from 1918 to 2010, our results indicate that IRA adoption stifled development in the decades following adoption. This led to persistent differences in per capita income growth through the majority of the twentieth century. Additional legislation in the 1970s and 1980s expanded tribal sovereignty for IRA reservations; as a result, income differences diminish by 2010. Taken together these results indicate that decentralized governance and the expansion of tribal sovereignty is an important component for economic growth on American Indian reservations.

On the examination of the persistence of indigenous institutions: land redistribution and indigenous democratic practices in Mexico

Aldo Elizalde

While recent studies have advanced our understanding of institutional persistence among indigenous groups, we still have much to learn about the mechanisms underpinning this phenomenon. Using detailed historical data on land redistribution and ethnic composition of the population in Mexico during 1930s-1990s, this paper reveals a strong association between traditional forms of indigenous democratic practices and accumulation of land resources. This simple association suggests that indigenous societies with more inclusive and less hierarchical forms of social organisation were able to better organise and defend their interests and rights from central governments. My findings thus support the persistence of indigenous institutions.

While recent studies have advanced our understanding of institutional persistence among indigenous groups, we still have much to learn about the mechanisms underpinning this phenomenon. Using detailed historical data on land redistribution and ethnic composition of the population in Mexico during 1930s-1990s, this paper reveals a strong association between traditional forms of indigenous democratic practices and accumulation of land resources. This simple association suggests that indigenous societies with more inclusive and less hierarchical forms of social organisation were able to better organise and defend their interests and rights from central governments. My findings thus support the persistence of indigenous institutions.

Windfall revenues, tribal institutions and American Indian economic development

Leigh Gardner

Since the 1970s, casino gaming on American Indian reservations has become a multi-billion dollar industry, second only to commercial casinos in terms of net revenues. Previous work assessing the impact of gaming on American Indian economic development has been limited to census data, but it has shown for members of tribes engaged in gaming since the 1970s, poverty and unemployment rates have fallen, while educational attainment and incomes have risen. This paper is the first study to use data on the finances of tribal governments to investigate how they have coped with the windfall revenues produced by gaming enterprises. It finds that different tribal characteristics influences spending patterns, with larger tribes in particular investing more in social services such as medical care, education or elder care. These are linked with greater convergence in living standards. The historical development of tribal institutions has also influenced their financial management.

Since the 1970s, casino gaming on American Indian reservations has become a multi-billion dollar industry, second only to commercial casinos in terms of net revenues. Previous work assessing the impact of gaming on American Indian economic development has been limited to census data, but it has shown for members of tribes engaged in gaming since the 1970s, poverty and unemployment rates have fallen, while educational attainment and incomes have risen. This paper is the first study to use data on the finances of tribal governments to investigate how they have coped with the windfall revenues produced by gaming enterprises. It finds that different tribal characteristics influences spending patterns, with larger tribes in particular investing more in social services such as medical care, education or elder care. These are linked with greater convergence in living standards. The historical development of tribal institutions has also influenced their financial management.

Dispelling the myth of inferior productivity for coerced labour: The Impact of Indenturing on the Productivity of the Graaff-Reinet Khoe

Calumet Links, Dieter von Fintel, Johan Fourie

Coerced labour arrangements have been the dominant form of labour transactions for most of human history. South Africa’s Eastern Cape frontier district at the advent of the 18th presents a unique opportunity to investigate a case where the indigenous population, the Khoe, were initially a free wage-earning class but became indentured labourers through a series of legislative enactments. We use transcribed tax censuses that contains farm-level information to calculate the Value of Marginal Product for indigenous labour. We find that Khoe productivity declines after 1809 to 1819. However, conflict during the first two decades of the 18th century led to a general decline in productivity on the frontier. We therefore utilize a diff-in-diff approach to test the impact of the coercive legislation on Khoe productivity more directly. These results show that Khoe productivity increased relative to slave and household productivity after the implementation of the 1812 Cradock legislation.

Coerced labour arrangements have been the dominant form of labour transactions for most of human history. South Africa’s Eastern Cape frontier district at the advent of the 18th presents a unique opportunity to investigate a case where the indigenous population, the Khoe, were initially a free wage-earning class but became indentured labourers through a series of legislative enactments. We use transcribed tax censuses that contains farm-level information to calculate the Value of Marginal Product for indigenous labour. We find that Khoe productivity declines after 1809 to 1819. However, conflict during the first two decades of the 18th century led to a general decline in productivity on the frontier. We therefore utilize a diff-in-diff approach to test the impact of the coercive legislation on Khoe productivity more directly. These results show that Khoe productivity increased relative to slave and household productivity after the implementation of the 1812 Cradock legislation.