Marlous van Waijenburg

Marlous van Waijenburg

Assistant Professor in the Business, Government, and International Economy Unit at Harvard Business School
Marlous van Waijenburg

Marlous van Waijenburg (Ph.D. History, Northwestern 2017) is an Assistant Professor in the Business, Government, and International Economy Unit at Harvard Business School. Before joining HBS in 2020, she was a post-doctoral scholar in the Michigan Society of Fellows and Assistant Professor of Economics at the University of Michigan.

Professor van Waijenburg’s main research agenda centers on the long-term development patterns of African economies, and speak to debates in African history, economic history, comparative politics, and development economics. Where sufficiently reliable and comparable records exist, she creates new datasets from a range of qualitative and quantitative archival sources. The construction of economic indicators for periods where standardized data for Africa is generally lacking (usually pre-1960), has three major cross-disciplinary payoffs. First, these new empirical foundations allow us to scrutinize a number of deep-seated (mis)conceptions about Africa’s political and economic past. Second, data over longer time periods can reveal a number of slower moving changes that have taken place in African economies. And finally, such historical datasets better embed ‘Africa’s path’ in debates about the making of global economic inequality.

She is currently completing the book version of her doctoral thesis, which analyzed the comparative nature and pace of colonial state-building efforts in Africa through the lens of taxation. Drawing on extensive archival work in Aix-en-Provence, Dakar, London, and Washington D.C., she constructed a public finance dataset that is comparable across time and space for nearly 30 British and French African colonies. This macro-perspective allows her to scrutinize contradicting narratives about colonial fiscal ambitions, to identify similarities and differences in colonizers’ strategies to fiscal and state capacity building, and to measure and explain the incidence of widely varying tax-payer burdens across colonial Africa. Most importantly, her analysis incorporates the “invisible” component of colonial public finance: the in-kind revenues that accrued to the state from forced labor practices. This dimension sets her study apart from an expanding and cross-disciplinary body of literature on historical tax systems. By approaching forced labor from a fiscal perspective, she not only seeks to broaden the conceptual framework of the historical ‘fiscal capacity building’ literature, but also to shed new light on the multifaceted role of colonial labor coercion practices. In August 2018, her doctoral thesis won the International Economic History Association’s tri-annual prize for best dissertation written in economic history (category 20th C.).


Publications and working papers

Frankema, Ewout, and Marlous van Waijenburg. "The Great Convergence: Skill Accumulation and Mass Education in Africa and Asia, 1870-2010." Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) Discussion Paper, No. 14150, November 2019.

  • Media coverage: Voxeu
  • Dataset available here


Frankema, Ewout, and Marlous van Waijenburg. "Africa Rising? A Historical Perspective." African Affairs 117, no. 469 (October 2018): 543–568.

  • Finalist for 2020 Stephen Ellis Prize for best article published in African Affairs


van Waijenburg, Marlous. "Financing the African Colonial State: The Revenue Imperative and Forced Labor." Journal of Economic History 78, no. 1 (March 2018): 40–80.

  • Media coverage: AEHN
  • Dataset available here


Frankema, Ewout, and Marlous van Waijenburg. "Metropolitan Blueprints of Colonial Taxation? Lessons from Fiscal Capacity Building in British and French Africa, 1880-1940." Journal of African History 55, no. 3 (September 2014): 371–400.


  1. Ewout, and Marlous van Waijenburg. "Structural Impediments to African Growth? New Evidence from Real Wages in British Africa, 1880–1965."Journal of Economic History 72, no. 4 (December 2012): 895–926.
  • Winner of 2012 Arthur Cole Prize for best article published in the Journal of Economic History
  • Dataset available here