Numeracy of Africans, Asians, and Europeans during the early modern period: new evidence from Cape Colony court registers

Jörg Baten, Johan Fourie
Published Online:
23 Jul 2014
Volume/Issue No:
Volume 68 Issue 2

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The lack of accurate measures of human capital formation often constrains investigations into the long‐run determinants of growth and comparative economic development, especially in the developing world. Using the reported ages of criminals in the Court of Justice records in the Cape Archives, this article documents for the first time numeracy levels and trends for inhabitants of the Cape Colony born between the late seventeenth and early nineteenth century: the native Khoesan, European settlers, and imported slaves from other African regions and Asia. This variety of origins allows us to compare contemporaneous levels of early modern development across three continents. By isolating those slaves born at the Cape, we also provide a glimpse into the dynamics of human capital transfer in a colonial setting. The Colony's relatively high level of human capital overall had implications for what was later to be the richest country on African soil, but the very unequal attainment of numeracy also foreshadowed extreme income inequality.

© Economic History Society 2014

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