Engerman, Stanley 1936-
Stanley L. Engerman, the John H. Munroe Professor of Economics and History at the University of Rochester, was born in New York City on March 14, 1936. Engerman, who received BS and MBA degrees from New York University and a PhD in economics from Johns Hopkins University, is a pioneer and major figure in the branch of economic history called “new economic history” or “cliometrics.” Cliometrics, a term that marries the muse of history—Clio—to the statistical analysis of data, emerged in the 1960s to become a central approach in addressing historical questions.
Engerman is best known for his work on slavery, especially his research with Robert Fogel on the U.S. South. Their two-volume book Time on the Cross, published in 1974, revolutionized the historical interpretation of the slave system. By combining the wealth of information that they collected from slave plantations and other sources and employing the techniques of the new economic history, Fogel and Engerman overturned accepted views.
Engerman and Fogel argued that economic incentives of owners and slaves were central to the way slavery functioned. They found that by the approach of the Civil War in 1860, the system had never been stronger economically. Slaves were selling at record high prices, and slave owners enjoyed substantial profits, especially on the larger plantations. Engerman and Fogel showed that, although violence or the threat of violence was part of the life of a slave, positive incentives in the form of better material conditions and even cash payments led to a slave labor force that was highly motivated. Through the statistical analysis of farm data, they also showed that productivity levels were higher than on free farms, especially so on plantations, where cotton was produced using gang labor. Their main conclusions were criticized at first but are now widely accepted.
Engerman’s study of slavery has extended to the Caribbean and other parts of the world, where his emphasis has been on the process by which the slaves ultimately gained their freedom. Engerman has often been at the epicenter of the debates about slavery and emancipation; in his presidential address to the Economic History Association in 1985, he summarized some of these debates. Engerman points out that whereas the colonies of mainland North America were settled largely by Europeans, the rest of the Americas received many more immigrants from Africa, who were forced there by an active slave trade. Engerman has helped describe the slave economies, which by the middle of the nineteenth century were producing much of the world’s sugar, cotton, coffee, and tobacco. He has also explored the transition of these economies to free labor. Unlike in the United States, which ended slavery through a bloody Civil War, slave emancipation in the rest of the Americas was largely peaceful. Engerman again highlights the importance of economic incentives, showing that, in contrast to what happened in the United States, slave owners in the British colonies received cash compensation for their emancipated slaves. As well, former slaves were required to work for a period of time under regulated conditions, further reducing the cost of emancipation to the owners and easing the transition to free labor.
In the late twentieth century Engerman’s work helped get to the heart of economic growth. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the economies of the United States and Canada were among the most successful in terms of total output and output per person, whereas other parts of the Americas fell far behind. Yet in 1800 the Caribbean and other regions based on slavery had been among the world’s wealthiest, indeed much wealthier than the free Americas that later did so well. Working mainly with Kenneth Sokoloff, Engerman has argued that although the slave system could generate high levels of output and large profits for slave owners, the extreme levels of inequality led to institutions that could not sustain growth once slavery was abolished. Most importantly, inequality discouraged the flowering of democracy and the establishment of an effective schooling system.
The archetypal inductive scholar, Engerman has been adviser to generations of students and colleagues. In Slavery in the Development of the Americas (2004), an edited volume based on the papers of a conference held in Engerman’s honor, David Eltis wrote that “his office (with its triple layer of books lining the walls) and home have functioned as a crossroads and clearing house for nearly four decades, not just for new ideas, but also for scholars seeking intellectual assistance and commentary” (Eltis, Lewis, and Sokoloff 2004, p. viii). Engerman has served on numerous editorial boards and edited more than fifteen books, many of which have been highly influential, particularly The Reinterpretation of American Economic History (1971), coedited with Robert Fogel; Long-Term Factors in American Economic Growth (1986), with Robert Gallman; A Historical Guide to World Slavery (1998), with Seymour Drescher; and the three-volume Cambridge Economic History of the United States (1996, 2000), coedited with Robert Gallman.
Engerman also has published more than one hundred articles in leading academic journals and edited volumes. Most of these deal with issues associated with slavery, but his work has spanned areas as diverse as fiscal policy, education, international trade, population and migration, industrial development, and the long-run process of economic growth. In addition to being a former president of the Economic History Association, Engerman is a Distinguished Fellow of the American Economic Association.
SEE ALSO Caribbean, The; Cliometrics; Economic Growth; Fogel, Robert; Inequality, Political; Inequality, Racial; Plantation; Slavery; Time on the Cross; U.S. Civil War
Davis, Lance, and Stanley Engerman. 2006. Naval Blockades in Peace and War: An Economic History since 1750. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Drescher, Seymour, and Stanley Engerman, eds. 1998. A Historical Guide to World Slavery. New York: Oxford University Press.
Eltis, David, Frank Lewis, and Kenneth Sokoloff. 2004. Slavery in the Development of the Americas. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Engerman, Stanley. 1986. Slavery and Emancipation in Comparative Perspective: A Look at Some Recent Debates. Journal of Economic History 46 (June): 317–339.
Engerman, Stanley, and Robert E. Gallman, eds. 1986. Long-Term Factors in American Economic Growth. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Engerman, Stanley, and Robert E. Gallman, eds. 1996, 2000. Cambridge Economic History of the United States. 3 vols. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Engerman, Stanley, and Kenneth Sokoloff. 2005. Colonialism, Inequality, and Long-Run Paths of Development. National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 11057.
Fogel, Robert W., and Stanley Engerman, eds. 1971. The Reinterpretation of American Economic History. New York: Harper and Row.
Fogel, Robert W., and Stanley Engerman. 1974. Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery. 2 vols. Boston: Little, Brown.
Fogel, Robert W., and Stanley Engerman, eds. 1992. Without Consent or Contract: Technical Papers on Slavery. 2 vols. New York: Norton.
Frank D. Lewis