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This chapter considers how and why history matters for contemporary development policy. It explores the basis on which historical scholarship can help to enrich the quality of contemporary development policy. The chapter provides an overview of the arguments and evidence that underpin the prevailing consensus among development economists and policy-makers that 'institutions' and 'history' matter. It focuses on the different theoretical and methodological underpinnings of contemporary historical scholarship as it pertains to comparative economic development. The chapter argues that in order for non-historians to engage more substantively and faithfully with the discipline of history, they must make a sustained effort both to understand historiography and appreciate anew the limits of their own discipline's methodological assumptions. It describes some of the distinctive types of general principles and specific implications that can be drawn from historical scholarship. The chapter also presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in this book.
The substantive and methodological contributions of professional historians to development policy debates was marginal, whether because of the dominance of economists or the inability of historians to contribute. There are broadly three ways in which history matters for development policy. These include insistence on the methodological principles of respect for context, process and difference; history is a resource of critical and reflective self-awareness about the nature of the discipline of development itself; and history brings a particular kind of perspective to development problems . After establishing the key issues, this book explores the broad theme of the institutional origins of economic development, focusing on the cases of nineteenth-century India and Africa. It demonstrates that scholarship on the origins of industrialisation in England in the late eighteenth century suggests a gestation reaching back to a period during which a series of social institutional innovations were pioneered and extended to most citizens of England. The book examines a paradox in China where an emphasis on human welfare characterized the rule of the eighteenth-century Qing dynasty, and has been demonstrated in modern-day China's emphasis on health and education. It provides a discussion on the history of the relationship between ideology and policy in public health, sanitation in India's modern history and the poor health of Native Americans. The book unpacks the origins of public education, with a focus on the emergency of mass literacy in Victorian England and excavates the processes by which colonial education was indigenized throughout South-East Asia.