Humphreys, Mary Eglantyne Hill 1914–2005

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Humphreys, Mary Eglantyne Hill 1914–2005

(Polly Hill)

OBITUARY NOTICE—See index for CA sketch: Born June 10, 1914, in Cambridge, England; died August 21, 2005, in Isleham, Cambridgeshire, England. Economist, social anthropologist, and author. Humphreys combined her knowledge of economics with anthropology to demonstrate that African people were perfectly capable of engaging in modern economic practices without the intrusion of European colonialists. The member of a famous family that included her uncle, economist John Maynard Keynes, and her Nobel Prize-winning physiologist father, A.V. Hill, Humphreys earned a B.A. in economics from Newnham College, Cambridge, in 1936. She worked on unemployment studies for a year for the Fabian Society and was a civil servant from 1940 until 1951. Her work in Africa began in 1951, when she joined the West Africa weekly as a journalist. After two years, she left the periodical to work as a research fellow for the University of Ghana. There she conducted her landmark studies on local cocoa farmers. Humphreys proved that, contrary to what Europeans believed, Africans were not a backward people and in fact were creating a thoroughly modern farming economy in Ghana without the knowledge of the colonial government. Humphreys's The Migrant Cocoa Farmers of Southern Ghana (1963) changed the way economists and scholars thought about native Africans. Humphreys was at the forefront of economic anthropology, a field she helped create, and developed her own research methods for her studies. Because of this, she unfortunately received little academic recognition for her work and never had a teaching appointment. After leaving Africa, she was a fellow at Clare Hall, Cambridge from 1965 to 1981, and was Leverhulme emeritus fellow from 1981 to 1982, as well as Smuts Reader in Commonwealth Studies at Cambridge from 1973 to 1979. Among her other books, which were written under her maiden name, Polly Hill, are Through the Dark Wood (1945), Hidden Trade in Hausaland (1969), Population, Prosperity, and Poverty: Rural Kano, 1900 and 1970 (1977), and Development Economics on Trial: The Anthropological Case for a Prosecution (1986). She also edited the correspondence collection Lydia and Maynard (1989), and her last book was Who Were the Fen People? (1993).



Guardian (London, England), August 26, 2005, p. 31.

Independent (London, England), August 25, 2005, p. 33.

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Humphreys, Mary Eglantyne Hill 1914–2005

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