The British Colonial Office was responsible for the administration of all the various elements of the British Empire (except India) from 1854 until its final merger with the Foreign Office in the mid-1960s, but only in the 1940s did it begin to take an active interest in social and economic development. Herbert Frankel was appointed in 1946 to a new Oxford chair in Colonial Economic Affairs, and during the 1940s and early 1950s Peter Bauer conducted research on the Malayan rubber industry and West African trade for the Colonial Office, being appointed in 1960 to a chair in development economics at the London School of Economics. In addition, Bauer coauthored the first British textbook in development economics, The Economics of Under-developed Countries (1957), with Basil Yamey. This early history of development economics in Britain has therefore a very different provenance from the subject as it emerged during the 1960s.

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