Stanley Engerman, Distinguished Fellow 2005

Stanley Engerman has made major contributions in economics and history over the course of four decades as a researcher, editor, and teacher. He has played a central role in the field of economic history in all these capacities, and has helped to increase the importance of economic history within the discipline of economics.

Engerman's research has concentrated on the development of labor markets in the modern era. His studies of slavery have considered its history in the Americas, the transatlantic slave trade, and European attitudes and policies toward slavery. In Time on the Cross (1974), he and Robert Fogel showed that slavery was highly productive and profitable for plantation crops for which the gang system could be employed, such as sugar and cotton. He and Fogel overturned the conventional wisdom among many historians of the time that slavery in the nineteenth-century American South was an inefficient, economically ailing, and unprofitable system. Their conclusion served to underscore the magnitude of the achievement of the abolitionists, whose moral crusade triumphed over a wealthy and powerful slave economy, not a weak and failing one.

More recently, Engerman's research has moved to the long-term effects of labor institutions. In a series of papers with Kenneth Sokoloff, he has argued that plantation agriculture fostered economic growth in colonial economies, but put these same economies at a disadvantage after the abolition of slavery. The inequality of land ownership and the low investment in human capital in the former slave economies became obstacles to economic growth and political development. In contrast, settlement by free immigrants who owned small farms and invested in their children's education produced both stronger democracies and more rapid economic growth.

Engerman has performed valuable service for researchers and students in his field as an editor. The Reinterpretation of American Economic History (1971), edited with Fogel, became the most influential early textbook on cliometrics. His Long-Term Factors in American Economic Growth (1986), edited with Robert Gallman, brought together the major results of the National Bureau of Economic Research Program on the Development of the American Economy. The three volumes of the Cambridge Economic History of the United States (1996, 2000), again edited with Gallman, remain the most complete overview of research in American economic history.

Engerman's knowledge of the discourse and methods of economics and history is comprehensive. He has published with more than 30 coauthors, almost evenly divided between economists and historians. In an era when economics has been dominated by deductive approaches, Engerman has been an archetypal inductive scholar, consistently drawing important generalizations from careful study of qualitative as well as quantitative evidence. As a teacher and guide to young scholars, Engerman has few peers. He has officially directed the dissertations of many historians and economists, and informally has been a teacher and advisor to several generations of economic historians.