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William Summerhill

Professor and Dr. E. Bradford Burns Chair in Latin American Studies

Contact Information

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

Call for Papers/Chamada de Trabalhos: Brazilian Workshop in Economic History, Insper, São Paulo, 2018

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).

Summerhill has held visiting appointments at the Universidade de São Paulo (FEA/USP), the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, and the Universidade Estadual Paulista (UNESP). He was 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 Kirsten Schultz in American Historical Review; 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).

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;" mention in the Folha de S.Paulo; cited in O Estado de S.Paulo; quoted in the Wall Street Journal; Elio Gaspari profile of research on 19th-century railroad subsidy, in Folha de S.Paulo.

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. 

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


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


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:

"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