Monday, 11 January 2016

FRESH Meeting on the Economic History of Education

The Frontier Research in Economic and Social History (FRESH) Meeting took place at the
University of Barcelona
University of Barcelona from December 3-4, 2015. Two keynote lectures and 16 presentations focused on the workshop theme “Economic History of Education” and constituted a dense and inspiring program.

The meeting started off with a very inspiring keynote by David Mitch (UMBC Maryland) giving an overview on how the field of “Economic History of Education” had developed during the last 50 years. The keynote’s guiding idea was to contrast the “Economic History of Education” with the developments in financial economic history. When Francesco Cinnirella (ifo Institute) concluded the meeting with the second keynote, focusing on the developments in the field during the past decade and outlining the open topics in the field, it was encouraging to see that most of the topics outlined had been addressed by one of the 16 contributions during the meeting.

How institutions might shape the supply and demand of education was addressed in several papers. In the presentation on “Does centralization foster human capital accumulation? Quasi-experimental evidence from Italy’s Liberal Age”, Gabriele Cappelli (University of Tuebingen) discussed a reform in early 20th century Italy that allowed municipalities to introduce school autonomy. Nuno Palma (University of Groningen) investigated how growing up under a more or a less autocratic regime in Portugal in the early 20th century affected literacy in his presentation on “A tale of two regimes: educational achievement and institutions in Portugal, 1910-1950”. A lively debate evolved after the presentation on whether Portugal in the early 20th century could still be understood as a developing country making the use of height as a measure of living standards viable. Giovanni Prarolo’s (University of Bologna) presentation on “Eight Centuries of Exposure to Pre-Industrial Politico-Economic Institutions and Current Socio-Economic Development. Disaggregated Analysis for Italy” evolved around the question whether pre-industrial institutions in Italy might explain tax evasion today which gave way for further presentations on the matter of persistence.

Felipe Valencia (University of Bonn) presented his paper on “The Mission: Human Capital Transmission, Economic Persistence and Culture in South America” which investigates whether the missions of the Jesuit order in South America had long run-effects on educational outcomes and income.

Piotr Kory (University of Warsaw) and Izabela Korys (National Library of Poland) equally concentrated on long-run effects, by looking at the consequences of the Polish partitions on book reading as a measure of social cohesion in today’s Poland in their presentation on “Literacy, education and development in Polish regions. Do we really observe the long-term effects of partitions?”.

The presentation by Paola Azar (Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona) on “Efficiency gains and fiscal effort Evidence for public education spending (1970 – 2010)” shifted the focus to the financing of education in Latin America. Dacil Juif’s (University of Wageningen) presentation on “The Human Capital of Iberian Jews and Other Minorities during the Inquisition Era” added the aspect of religion to the process of human capital acquisition by using data from the Inquisition’s trials to measure the human capital level of Jews as compared to other parts of the Spanish population.

University of Barcelona
Four presentations evolved around the topic of inequality in education. Jabrane Amaghouss (Cadi Ayyad University) looked at the interplay of inequality in education and economic growth in his presentation on “The Dynamics of the Reduction of Educational Inequalities in Africa”. Marc Goni (University of Vienna) looked at how the provision of schools was affected by the institution of school boards in his presentation “Landed Elites and Education Provision in England and Wales. Evidence from School Boards (1870-1899)”. Julio Martínez-Galarraga (Universitat de Barcelona)  relatedly looked at how the (re-)distribution of land through the Spanish Reconquista affected human capital accumulation in the presentation on “Land access inequality and education in pre-industrial Spain”. Finally, Myung Soo Cha (Yeungnam University) looked at the consequences of land inequality on human capital from the Korean perspective in his presentation “Land Inequality and Human Capital Accumulation in Korea, 1910-2010”.  

Chiara Martinelli (Central Library, Council of the European Union) presented a new dataset on industrial schools in Italy and described the enlargement of industrial and artistic industrial schools in her presentation on “Did Industrial Workers Attend Industrial Schools? A Dataset on Industrial and Artistic Industrial Schools in Italy”.

My (Ruth Maria Schueler, Ifo Institute) presentation shifted the focus to the non-cognitive outcomes of education in the presentation “Nation Building and Social Capital in Prussia: The Role of Education” by investigating whether a higher share of state funds in educational expenditures succeeded in aligning Prussian voters with the state’s ideology.
Finally, a last set of papers evolved around the topics of health and fertility.

Anastasia Driva (University of Munich) investigated the effects of a health reform in Imperial Germany on mortality in the presentation “Compulsory Health Insurance and Mortality”. Maarit Olkkola (UPF and National Institute for Health and Welfare) looked at a special form of birth care in Finland in her presentation on “Poor Cognition – Early-life Socioeconomic Status and Cognitive Abilities in Adulthood. The Helsinki Birth Cohort Study 1934–1939”. Finally, Philipp Ager (University of Southern Denmark) investigated the interplay of agricultural income and fertility.

Not only the range of topics within the field of the “Economic History of Education” which was covered by the presentations was showing an encouraging development in the field, many presentations at the same time also introduced new datasets.


The conference dinner at the seashore of Barcelona nicely complemented the dense program and the local organizers Alfonso Herranz-Loncán and Sergio Espuelas Barroso ensured a smooth sequence of the workshop. Martin Uebele (University of Groningen) represented the FRESH board.  

This blog post was written by Ruth SchülerJunior Economist and Doctoral Student at Ifo Institute Munich

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