Professor Phyllis Deane: Leading and influential figure in the field of economic history

 

Deane was attracted by research but not by teaching; she always disliked showing off

Phyllis Deane was a major figure in the era when economic history was an important and expanding and vibrant discipline in Britain. She was brought to the Department of Applied Economics at Cambridge in 1950, where she quietly rose through the academic ranks. She unassumingly made an impact on the national mind for a good half century and her textbook The First Industrial Revolution (Cambridge University Press, 1965) was immensely influential for several generations of students, running to several reprints.

She was an economist and a historian, in the period when it was possible to be both. She was born in Hong Kong just before the end of the First World War, the daughter of an Admiralty engineer who moved around the Empire and ended up in Glasgow. She was educated first at the Hutcheson's Girls' grammar school and then at the University of Glasgow, where it was possible to graduate with an MA in economics and history, as she did in 1940.

She was strongly influenced by two teachers at Glasgow: the old Professor WR Scott, famous for his three volumes on The Constitution and Finance of English, Scottish and Irish joint-stock companies to 1720 (1910-12), a "poppet", she said; the other the young lecturer Alex Cairncross, just back in Glasgow from Cambridge (ie. Keynes) – "captivatingly brilliant", she said.

She then moved to London, where she remained based for the rest of the 1940s. She was attracted by research, by the careful finding-out of things, and not at all by teaching; she always disliked showing off. She was a research officer, first for the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, and then, after the war, for the Colonial Office. She spent some time in Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland (as they then were) working up from family income surveys and mining accounts to the first estimates of total national income. Later, from her desk in London, she produced the first national income accounts for Nigeria. Her first publications were about the measurement of colonial national incomes and colonial social accounts.

In 1950 she was invited by Dick Stone (later Professor Sir Richard Stone) to join him at the Department of Applied Economics in Cambridge. This famously productive department – originally established after the war for Maynard Keynes to direct, but he died too soon to do so – engaged in research into economic realities, past and present. She was soon at home there. There were two triumphant products, books that mark an era in British economic history: Deane with WA Cole on British Economic Growth, 1688-1959 and BR Mitchell with Deane, Abstract of British Historical Statistics, both published by the Cambridge University Press in 1962. For a generation, these were the central works in a tradition going back to Gregory King and Adam Smith. "Deane and Cole" and "Mitchell and Deane" mark the beginning of the high point of British economic history as a discipline.

Deane was tempted into teaching, and as a clear and direct thinker and speaker, she did very well. She became a lecturer in economics at Cambridge in 1961, Reader in Economic History in 1971, and despite the grudging way in which Cambridge awards the title of professor, Professor of Economic History for the two years before she retired in 1983. In these years, she gave a lecture course in economic history for students of economics, focusing in particular on the industrial revolution, and it was the publication of the textbook based on these lectures that made her name.

She next wrote an admirably clear account of The evolution of economic ideas (also Cambridge University Press, 1978), and also much reprinted. Cambridge University Press kept pressing her for a revised edition of her The First Industrial Revolution, but she did not want to bother to go over ground already covered. The increasingly econometric fussiness of "the new economic history" did not appeal to her. She did not like empty economic boxes. She liked them filled with human variety.

Her last work was a biography of Keynes's father, The life and times of J Neville Keynes (2001), an admirable man who wrote one important book on economics and then became a Cambridge administrator, in the days when there were intelligent administrators. The CUP stupidly and petulantly refused to publish it. It was published elsewhere.

Professor Deane was terrifically good and efficient at organising anything she thought worthwhile. She edited the Economic Journal from 1968 to 1975, and she was President of the Royal Economic Society in 1980-82. For many years she represented the Royal Economic Society on the Council of the Economic History Society. She worked hard for Newnham College in Cambridge, where she was an active Fellow from 1961. She was made a Fellow of the British Academy in 1980. Direct, careful, caring, sensible, brisk when necessary, no-nonsense; she had a look in her eye that was not cynical, but sceptical, certainly undermining of pomposity in any form.

She has been captured for posterity by two interesting video interviews, one by Nick Crafts (for the Institute of Historical Research in 1995) and one by me (for the Economic History Society in 2002). Her long-time companion, Joan Porter, died a few years ago.

Phyllis Mary Deane, economic historian: born Hong Kong 13 October 1918; Department of Applied Economics, Cambridge 1950-61; Lecturer in Economics 1961-71, Reader in Economic History 1971-81, Professor of Economic History 1981-83, and subsequently Emeritus Professor, University of Cambridge; Fellow of Newnham College 1961-83, and subsequently Honorary Fellow; FBA (1980); partner to Joan Porter; died Cambridge 28 July 2012

Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
Sport
There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
News
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
news
Life and Style
beauty
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Directory, ITIL, Reuter)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Dire...

PHP Web Developer (HTML5, CSS3, Jenkins, Vagrant, MySQL)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: PHP Web Develo...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice