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William Summerhill


Contact Information

Email    wrs[at]history.ucla.edu
Office  9256 Bunche Hall
Phone  310-206-7600

7th Brazilian Workshop in Economic History, Insper, São Paulo, 28 August, 2020

William Summerhill is a historian of Brazil. His research interests include sovereign debt, credit markets, schooling and human capital, railroads and infrastructure, and inequality. He is the author of Inglorious Revolution: Political Institutions, Sovereign Debt, and Financial Underdevelopment in Imperial Brazil (Yale University Press, 2015), and Order Against Progress: Government, Foreign Investment, and Railroads in Brazil, 1854-1913 (Stanford University Press, 2003) [Brazilian edition, Trilhos do Desenvolvimento: as ferrovias no crescimento da economia brasileira (São Paulo: 2018)].

Summerhill has held visiting appointments at Insper, Universidade de São Paulo (FEA/USP), and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales. He has been a visiting researcher at the Escola de Pós-Graduação em Economia of the Fundação Getúlio Vargas (EPGE-FGV), and a National Fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Notes: Inglorious Revolution covered by Elio Gaspari in Folha de S.Paulo and O Globo (February 2016); reviewed by Teresa Cribelli for Hispanic American Historical Review (May, 2018); reviewed by Kirsten Schultz in American Historical Review (October 2016); by Leonardo Monasterio for Pesquisa e Planejamento Econômico (December, 2017); by José Augusto Ribas Miranda ["Da Rua Direita à Lombard Street"] in Revista de História (2017), with synopsis at "Por que o Brasil não teve uma Wall Street?" (2018); by Zephyr Frank in Business History Review; by Anne Hanley at EH.net; by Melissa Teixeira at H-LatAm; by Gail Triner in Journal of Economic History; by Rafael Ioris in History: Reviews of New Books; by Ulisses Ruiz-de-Gamboa in Diário do Comércio ("Como era solvente o meu Império"); by Asher Levine in Americas Quarterly ("What a 19th Century Default Says About Brazil's Crisis Today"); recommended reading at Casa das Garças (February 2016).

Interview with João Soares about Trilhos do Desenvolvimento for Deutsch Welle (Brasil), “Brasil hoje não tem posição no mercado que tinha no século 19,” (September 2018); Elio Gaspari on Trilhos do Desenvolvimento in Folha de S.Paulo and O Globo (September 2018); presentation and panel discussions at Insper for the launch of Trilhos do Desenvolvimento (August, 2018), "Desafios e entraves para o desenvolvimento do transporte brasileiro;" reviewed in Folha de S.Paulo by Samuel Pessôa, "Trilhos do Desenvolvimento: Nosso subdesenvolvimento tem sido construído por nós mesmos, não por gringos" (August 2018); review by Marcelo Toledo of Trilhos do Desenvolvimento in Folha de S.Paulo (August 2018); research on impact of 19th-century railroads (Order Against Progress/Trilhos de Desenvolvimento) highlighted by Guilherme Quintella in interview in Brazil Journal (June 2018); Elio Gaspari profile of research on 19th-century railroad subsidy, in Folha de S.Paulo.

Quoted in Paulo Trevisani's piece at Wall Street Journal on the loss of the Museu Nacional in Rio de Janeiro to fire (September 2018); interviewed on the Brazilian economy at IREE (July 2018); interviewed for Newsday, BBC World Service on federal intervention in Rio de Janeiro (February, 2018); presentation on "Origins of Executive Constraints in Brazil" (@49:39) at Tinker Conference on the Rule of Law in Latin America, at Stanford (December 2017); talk on institutions, crony capitalism, and corruption at Centro Mackenzie de Liberdade Econômica covered in Folha de S.Paulo (October 2017); interviewed by BBC World Service Newsday on the corruption conviction of former President Lula in Brazil (July 2017); by Rafael Cariello on Renato Perim Colistete and his research on education in Brazil, in "Pátria Iletrada," in revista piauí (January 2017); by Luís Artur Nogueira for "Os homens da economia," IstoÉ Dinheiro (January 2017); by Márcio Kroehn for "Os presidentes num País em ebulição," IstoÉ Dinheiro (January, 2017); for NPR's Marketplace on Brazil's economic crisis and the new privatization proposals (September, 2016); by BBC World Service Newsday on the presidential impeachment in Brazil (August 2016); on BBC World TV news (August 2016); by Márcio Kroehn in IstoÉ Dinheiro, “O Brasil tem um estado enorme para um país emergente,” (February 2016); for Rafael Cariello's story on the search for Nathaniel Leff, "À Procura de Leff," in revista piauí (January 2016) (English version here); "Brazil's Meltdown," Yale Books Unbound (December 2015); profiled by the research foundation of the state of São Paulo (FAPESP), "Quem não deve não tem crédito;" interview by Jorge Felix in Valor Econômico"Lições da história econômica;" research mention in the Folha de S.Paulo; in O Estado de S.Paulo; quoted in the Wall Street Journal.

Before taking up a career in research and teaching (and occasionally after) he served as a paratrooper. At one time he was responsible for the Army component of a joint redevelopment program with USAID in Bosnia-Herzegovina that secured local compliance with the Dayton peace accords, affording him a somewhat novel experience in applied development. He regularly speaks to campus student veteran groups. 

WilliamSummerhill.com; Academia.edu page; UCLA Center for Economic History; c.v. at Currículo Lattes (CNPq-Brasil)


Ph.D., Stanford University; M.A. and B.A. (high honors), University of Florida


Alexander Gerschenkron Prize, Economic History Association


Fulbright IIE, Fulbright-Hays, ACLS Burkhardt, NSF, NEH, ACLS-SSRC, FAPESP, CNPq

Selected Publications


Trilhos do Desenvolvimento: as ferrovias no crescimento da economia brasileira, 1854-1913 (São Paulo, Editora Livros de Safra, 2018) [Brazilian edition of Order Against Progress]

Inglorious Revolution: Political Institutions, Sovereign Debt, and Financial Underdevelopment in Imperial Brazil (Yale University Press, 2015)

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

Articles and chapters:

"Sovereign Commitment and Financial Underdevelopment in nineteenth-century Brazil," in Thorsten Beck and Ross Levine, eds., Handbook of Finance and Development (2018)

"A Agricultura Paulista em 1905," (with Francisco Vidal Luna and Herbert S. Klein), Estudos Econômicos, vol. 44, no. 1, 2014.

"The New Economic History of Latin America: Evolution and Recent Contributions" (with John H. Coatsworth), in The Oxford Handbook of Latin American History, Jose Moya, ed. (Oxford University Press, 2010).

"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, 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.

Work in progress:

"The Economic Impact of Education in Twentieth-Century Brazil" (with Samuel de Abreu Pessôa and Edmilson Varejão)

"From Quilimane to The City: Rio Slavers, London Bankers, and the Atlantic Origins of Representative Government in Brazil, 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]

Graduate Students

(since 2005):

Edmilson Varejão (external dissertation supervisor), FGV/EPGE, in progress

Thales Zamberlan Pereira (external dissertation supervisor), "The Cotton Trade and Brazilian Foreign Commerce During the Industrial Revolution," PhD, Universidade de São Paulo, 2017

Nilce Wicks, "Pathways to Freedom: Slavery and Emancipation in Nineteenth Century Ouro Preto," PhD, 2017

Cassia Roth (co-chair), "Miscarriage of Justice: Reproduction, Medicine, and the Law in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (1890-1940)," PhD, 2016

Daniel Franken, "Growing Taller, yet Falling Short: Policy, Health, and Living Standards in Brazil, 1850-1950," PhD, 2016

John G. Farrell, "Southern Exposure: Latin Americans view the United States (1783-1900)," PhD, 2015

Molly Ball, "Inequality in São Paulo's Old Republic: a wage perspective, 1891-1930," PhD, 2013

Joseph J. Ryan, "Credit Where Credit is Due: Lending and Borrowing in Rio de Janeiro, 1820-1900," PhD, 2007

Hillel Eyal (co-chair), "Colonizing the Colonizer: Spanish Immigrants and Creoles in late colonial Mexico City," PhD, 2006

Cláudio Djissey Shikida (external dissertation supervisor), "Mercados, Política, e Conflitos: Ensaios sobre a História Econômica Luso-Brasileira," PhD, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, 2003


Post-doctoral scholars:

Renato Lopes Leite; Sergio Monteiro; Leonardo Monasterio; Ivan Salomão

Collaborators or co-authors:

Samuel de Abreu Pessôa and Edmilson Varejão; Renato Perim Colistete and Leonardo Weller (São Paulo Economic History Workshop); Flávio Luís de Souza Santos (asset price evolution); John H. Coatsworth; Douglass C. North and Barry R. Weingast; Francisco Vidal Luna and Herbert S. Klein