"Collaborative Research: Colonialism and Its Legacies: A Comprehensive Historical Dataset" (NSF Proposals 0648292 and 0647921)

Principal Investigators -- John Gerring and James Mahoney --

It has become commonplace to observe that the colonial experience shaped the modern era in profound ways. Yet, while there is general agreement that "colonialism mattered," the long-term effects of this traumatic intervention are less clear. The virulence of scholarly and popular opinions about colonialism is matched by the inconclusiveness of the current research. The core difficulty can be stated succinctly: scholars lack a reliable, global dataset for testing hypotheses. As a remedy for these problems, this project will develop a comprehensive historical dataset focused on Anglo-European and Japanese overseas colonialism since the fifteenth century. Using the country-year or country-decade as the unit of analysis, the principal investigators will code all cases from 1400 to the present along a variety of dimensions related to the colonial experience and the project of political, social, and economic development. To supervise the data-gathering process, this project will utilize the diverse expertise of a panel of regional experts: Paul Barclay, Neil Englehart, John Gerring, Charles Kurzman, James Mahoney, and Nicolas van de Walle.

In contemplating the potential impact of this project it is important to recognize that colonial occupation constituted a vast experiment -- on a truly global scale -- in governance and development. So viewed, it may provide useful lessons with contemporary relevance. Thus, scholars might compare colonies where the development of education and infrastructure constituted a priority for the occupying power with colonies where these factors were neglected. How successful were these developmental policies? What sorts of obstacles were encountered? To the extent that these policies were implemented successfully, did they have enduring effects? More generally, this dataset promises to stimulate research concerning the causes and effects of colonialism by scholars in diverse fields, equipped with a diverse set of methods, across the social sciences. The completed research will allow scholars, policymakers, and the informed public to better understand the contemporary legacies of this past -- including both the positive and negative aspects. Understanding this legacy may open the way for a more realistic assessment of what is within policymakers' power to achieve at the present time.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
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Brian D. Humes
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Boston University
United States
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