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Office: 9256 Bunche Hall
Phone: 310-206-7600
Fax: 310-206-9630
E-mail: wrs@history.ucla.edu

Mailing Address:

UCLA Department of History
6265 Bunche Hall
Box 951473
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1473

Class Websites


Brazil, Latin America, Economic History, Atlantic History

Research Interests

William Summerhill has taught at UCLA since 1994. After having taken his M.A. in History and B.A. in Political Science at the University of Florida he received his Ph.D. from Stanford University in 1995. His research focuses on the determinants of long-run political and economic change in Latin America, with particular emphasis on Brazil.

He has held a visiting appointment at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, twice been a visiting professor at Departamento de Economia of the Universidade de São Paulo, was a visiting research scholar at the Escola de Pós-Graduação em Economia of the Fundação Getúlio Vargas (EPGE-FGV), and a National Fellow at the Hoover Institution. The National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, the Social Science Research Council, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the National Endowment for the Humanities have supported his research. He has presented invited talks at the Universidade de São Paulo, EPGE-FGV, the Instituto de Estudos de Política Econômica/Casa das Garças, and the Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro, among other Brazilian universities, as well as the Banco de la República (Colombia) and IMT-Lucca (Italy). At present he is completing a book re-examining the broad economic consequences of colonialism, dependency, and slavery, provisionally titled “The Origins of Economic Backwardness in Brazil, 1750-1900." He is co-editor of the Revista de Historia Económica.

Before embarking on a career in teaching and research (and occasionally after) he served as an Army paratrooper. He spent 1997 in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where he was responsible for the Army component of a joint program with USAID that facilitated the reconstruction of war-damaged local infrastructure, while eliciting compliance with the Dayton peace accords.


Quoted in the Wall Street Journal, June 7, 2011.

Interview in Valor Econômico, with comments on the history of regulation in Brazil, the role of the state, and the politics and economics of newly discovered oil reserves ("camada pré-sal"): "Lições da história econômica"

Coverage of Summerhill's work on the history of sovereign debt in Brazil, by the research foundation of the state of São Paulo: "Quem não deve não tem crédito"

Conferences Organized:

"Latin American Economies: Globalization and History," April 24-25, 2009, sponsored by the UCLA Latin America Institute, the Center for Economic History, and CIDE

Inaugural Mini-Conference of the UCLA Center for Economic History, October 21, 2006: "States and Capital Markets in Comparative Historical Perspective"


Globalizing Brazil: Politics, Prosperity, Poverty, June 27-July 31, 2010, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Selected Publications

Inglorious Revolution: Political Institutions, Sovereign Debt, and Financial Underdevelopment in Imperial Brazil (Yale University Press, forthcoming).

"The New Economic History of Latin America: Evolution and Recent Contributions" (with John H. Coatsworth), in Handbook of Latin American History, Jose Moya, ed. (Oxford University Press, forthcoming).

"Fiscal Bargains, Political Institutions, and Economic Performance," Hispanic American Historical Review, Vol. 88, no. 2 (2008): 219-33.

"Infrastructure," in Victor Bulmer-Thomas, John H. Coatsworth, and Roberto Cortes Conde, The Cambridge Economic History of Latin America, Vol. II, The Long Twentieth Century (Cambridge University Press, 2006).

"Big Social Savings in a Small Laggard Economy: Railroad-Led Growth in Brazil," Journal of Economic History, Vol. 65, no. 1 (2005): 72-102.

"State bank transformation in Brazil – choices and consequences" (with Thorsten Beck and Juan Miguel Crivelli), Journal of Banking and Finance, Vol. 29, no. 8 (2005): 2223-2257.

Order Against Progress: Government, Foreign Investment, and Railroads in Brazil, 1854-1913 (Stanford University Press, 2003).

“Order, Disorder, and Economic Change: Latin America vs. North America,” (with Douglass C. North and Barry R. Weingast), in Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Hilton Root, eds., Governing for Prosperity (Yale University Press, 2000).

"Market Intervention in a Backward Economy: Railway Subsidy in Brazil, 1854-1913," Economic History Review, Vol. 53, no. 3 (1998): 542-568.


"A Random Walk in the Tropics: Efficiency and inefficiency in the bond market of nineteenth-century Brazil"

"From Quilimane to The City: Rio Slavers, London Bankers, and the Atlantic Origins of Brazil's Sovereign Debt, 1796-1831"

"Colonial Institutions, Slavery, Inequality, and Development: Evidence from São Paulo, Brazil"
[Download at SSRN]
[Download at Munich RePEc Archive]

"Productivity in the Paraiba Valley: Assessing Agricultural Efficiency in 19th-Century Brazil"
[Download at RePEc]

"Re-Estimating the Brazilian Public Debt-to-GDP Ratio" [with Ulisses Ruiz-de-Gamboa]


American Council of Learned Societies Burkhardt Fellowship in the Humanities
National Science Foundation
National Fellow, Hoover Institution
National Endowment for the Humanities Faculty Summer Research Fellowship


Alexander Gerschenkron Prize, Economic History Association

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