Sir John Clapham, who became in 1928 the first professor of economic history in the University of Cambridge, was born in Lancashire, the son of a prosperous jeweller. From the Cambridge boarding school (Leys) to which he was sent at the age of 14, he went up to King’s College in 1892 to read history at a time when Acton, Maitland and Cunningham dominated the history school. It was as a graduate student at King’s, researching into the French Revolution, that he attracted the attention of Alfred Marshall, who characteristically set about pressuring the promising young historian to devote his research efforts to filling the gaps in modern English economic history. There is an oft-quoted letter which Marshall wrote in 1897 to Acton saying:
I feel that the absence of any tolerable account of the economic development of England during the last century and a half is a ... grievous hindrance to the right understanding of the problems of our time ... but till recently the man for the work had not yet appeared. But now I think the man is in sight. Clapham has more analytic faculty than any thorough historian whom I have ever taught: his future work is I think still uncertain: a little force would I think turn him this way or that. If you could turn him towards XVIII or XIX century economic history, economists would ever be grateful to you.
Clapham, J. H. Economic development Economic history Marshall, A
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