How and Why Does History Matter for Development Policy?

33 Pages Posted: 5 Jul 2011

See all articles by Michael Woolcock

Michael Woolcock

World Bank - Development Research Group (DECRG); Harvard University - Kennedy School of Government; Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Vijayendra Rao

World Bank - Development Research Group (DECRG)

Simon Szreter

University of Cambridge

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Date Written: January 1, 2009

Abstract

The consensus among scholars and policymakers that 'institutions matter' for development has led inexorably to a conclusion that 'history matters', since institutions clearly form and evolve over time. Unfortunately, however, the next logical step has not yet been taken, which is to recognise that historians (and not only economic historians) might also have useful and distinctive insights to offer. This paper endeavours to open and sustain a constructive dialogue between history-understood as both 'the past' and 'the discipline'-and development policy by (a) providing a critique of recent 'big picture' accounts of comparative economic development (by economists, historians and others), (b) clarifying what the craft of historical scholarship entails, especially as it pertains to understanding causal mechanisms, contexts and complex processes of institutional change, (c) providing examples of historical research that support, qualify or challenge the most influential research (by economists and economic historians) in contemporary development policy, and (d) offering some general principles and specific implications that historians, on the basis of the distinctive content and method of their research, bring to development policy debates.

Keywords: History, Development policy, Institutions, Time, Contexts

Suggested Citation

Woolcock, Michael and Rao, Vijayendra and Szreter, Simon Richard Stanislaw, How and Why Does History Matter for Development Policy? (January 1, 2009). Brooks World Poverty Institute Working Paper No. 68. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1361718 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1361718

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Vijayendra Rao

World Bank - Development Research Group (DECRG) ( email )

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Simon Richard Stanislaw Szreter

University of Cambridge ( email )

St John's College
Cambridge, CB2 1TP
United Kingdom

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