Wednesday, 16 June 2010

A dedication to a true gentleman scholar

I have just finished my Ph.D. and I have realised that although I have thanked many people who have helped me over the years in the thesis, there is a more general debt which i will not be able to repay as Professor Angus Maddison (1926-2010) has past away.

Maddision was an economic historian of the old school - the school who thought that it was important to (to paraphrase David Landes) had to "think big". Many doubted his vision when he painstakingly started estimating the historical GDP of the world, bit by bit, country by country. Now over 45 years latter the world is indebted in having a huge dataset of the GDP of the world (broken in countries) from the birth of Christ until the present day. In that way he blew our blinkers away and forced us to look globally, long before the word "globalisation" became popular. It is one of the most cited sources and his vision enabled a tremendous amount of research as well as providing comparative context. He even estimated the GDP of Cyprus and Malta, proving to me that it can be done. It took me 5 years to prove that his estimate was 34% higher that what it should be for Malta/Cyprus; in the same amount of time he estimated the GDP of the world form the 1700's to 1AD. My phd was based on him and other pioneers who wanted to know in numbers the conditions of the past.

A polyumath and bit nosy, he stuck his head in all issues , from Chinese development to the moguls in India and Latin America. His dynamism, intelligence and restless spirit meant that he spread controversy wherever he went, not helped by the fact that he decided whether he liked you or not on first impressions.

His instinct on numbers and on "what was going on" was immense; his drive even more so. While quite unwell he finished a book which chronicles the history of the world since the roman empire in a qualitative way. I met him at a dinner to commemorate his new book less that two years ago. When he heard i was estimating the GDP of Cyprus and Malta for the interwar period he eyes shone "its a great research project, but you need one more country" he said excitedly, "why don't you do China?".

The exchange shows both his immense and global way of looking at things, and looking back it also shows his lament that he would not survive enough to complete such a grand project of getting robust estimates for china. I am so sorry to have disappointed him with my limited outlook.

I had asked him if it was possible to separate his data for small countries in order for me to able to better compare my series with his. I found out at my viva yesterday that despite being very ill he started separating his estimates so i could do just that, but he was never able to complete it.

Thus today i also dedicate my completed thesis on Angus Maddison - economic history is much poorer without him.

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