Wilson Center Experts

Gavin Wright

Fellow
United States Studies

Expertise:
North America
;
United States
Affiliation:
William Robertson Coe Professor of American Economic History, Department of Economics, Stanford University
Wilson Center Project(s):
"The Economics of the Civil Rights Revolution in the U.S. South"
Term:
Sep 01, 2010
-
May 01, 2011

Economic history is now practiced primarily within economics departments, often serving as an institutionalized form of internal subversion. Continuing a strong Stanford economic history tradition, that is the way I see my own research: Not to reject or overthrow the discipline of economics, but to demonstrate the importance of historical processes and historical context in economic life. Believing that the best approach to this agenda is to develop compelling historical explanations for important economic phenomena, much of my work has been devoted to identifying the institutional and cultural foundations for the American rise to world economic pre-eminence.Another case in point is the Civil Rights Revolution of the 1960s, the research topic for my year at the Center. My interest in the American South dates back to the summer of 1963, which I spent on a voter registration project in rural North Carolina. It became clear to me at that time that although political rights for African Americans were essential, the deeper roots of the race issue were economic. But I knew that I did not have the expertise to understand this relationship fully, which is why I set out to gain advanced training in economics. Alas, economics did not offer the deep understanding I was looking for. But economic history has provided a vehicle that has allowed me to struggle with these issues over the years, and I am grateful to be able to return now to the challenge that prompted my entry into academic life: understanding the relationship between the race issue and economics.
 

Education

B.A. (1965) Swarthmore College; Ph.D. (1969) Yale University
 

Experience

  • Professor of Economics, Stanford University, 1982-present
  • Pitt Professor of American History and Institutions, University of Cambridge, 1994-95
  • Assistant, Associate, and Full Professor of Economics, University of Michigan, 1972-82

Expertise

American economic history; economic history of the American South

Project Summary

The project is to complete a book manuscript on the economic causes and consequences of the Civil Rights Revolution in the American South. The book will document the real and lasting economic gains to African-Americans, and their strongly regional character. It will then ask whether these advances were at the expense of white southerners, or as part of an economic restructuring that also advanced the economic wellbeing of most white southerners. This history is significant for contemporary policy discussions, because it offers an example of federal government intervention, over powerful regional objections, that was strikingly successful both morally and economically.

Major Publications

  • The Political Economy of the Cotton South. W.W. Norton, 1978.
  • Old South New South: Revolutions in the Southern Economy Since the Civil War. Basic Books, 1986 (LSU Press, 1996).
  • Slavery and American Economic Development. Louisiana State University Press, 2006.
  • "The Civil Rights Revolution as Economic History," Journal of Economic History 59, (June 1999).
  • "The Economics of the Civil Rights Revolution," in Winfred O. Moore, Jr., and Orville Vernon Burton (eds.), Toward the Meeting of the Waters: The Civil Rights Movement in South Carolina (University of South Carolina Press, 2008).

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