The Laboratory for the Economics of Africa’s Past (LEAP) is dedicated to the quantitative study of African economic and social history. It brings together scholars and students interested in understanding and explaining the long-term economic development of Africa’s diverse societies. LEAP is affiliated to the Department of Economics at Stellenbosch University, South Africa.

Stellenbosch University has a proud record of Economic History teaching and research. Prof. Sampie Terreblanche, appointed Professor of Economic History in 1968 and who died in February 2018, may ultimately be remembered for his fearlessness in speaking truth to power, and a public intellectual who constantly reminded apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa of the injustice inherent in economic inequality. The Department of Economics now honours Sampie, as he was widely known, with a dedicated website and repository of his written work.

The global renaissance of African economic history since the early 2000s has spurred a new generation of Stellenbosch economists to carry on the work of Prof. Terreblanche. Instrumental in this was the hosting of the 2012 World Economic History Congress. The Congress, held during a cold July in the picturesque town of Stellenbosch, attracted more than 800 international scholars and positioned Stellenbosch as one of the leading centres of economic history on the African continent. Following the Congress, plans were made to formalise the Economic History group at Stellenbosch University, with the aim of expanding and improving quantitative African economic history research.

Success depended on recruiting high-potential students and exposing them to the leading thinkers in African economic history and economic and social history more generally. 

The Department of Economics now teach an undergraduate and graduate Economic History course annually. To build the essential collaborative networks across Europe, North America and Africa, the department has appointed five Research Associates and one Extraordinary Professor in Economic History, Jan Luiten van Zanden, Professor of Economic History at Utrecht University. The economic history cluster, consisting of staff and students interested in African economic history, has met weekly since 2014 for a brown-bag seminar. The cluster was formalised at the beginning of 2015 when LEAP was launched.

In the last five years, LEAP has grown from a handful of students to a group of more than 25 students, postdocs and faculty. 

The Biography of an Uncharted People project, generously funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, has facilitated greater interaction with the History department at Stellenbosch University. The scope of work has expanded beyond economic history, to also include social, demographic, financial and family history.

LEAP has identified five traits that characterise our work:


With these exciting developments going on, the future of quantitative African economic and social history research looks extremely promising.


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Stay Updated


The LEAP Webinar series is open to anyone.
Please send Nobungcwele Mbem an email if you want to join.

29 July

Melanie Xue (NYU Abu Dhabi)

5 August

Laura Richardson (Stellenbosch/Cambridge)

12 August

Ellora Derenoncourt (UC Berkeley)

19 August

Amy Rommelspacher (Stellenbosch)

26 August

Dozie Okoye (Dalhousie)

2 September

Tinashe Nyamunda (North West)

9 September

Trevon Logan (Ohio State)

16 September

Laura Channing (Cambridge)

23 September

Patricia Funjika (Pretoria)

30 September

Levi Boxell (Stanford)

7 October


14 October

Chanda Chiseni (Lund)

21 October

Felix Meier zu Selhausen (Wageningen)

28 October

Martine Mariotti (ANU)


Since 2016, LEAP hosts an annual lecture series. Our first LEAP Lecture was presented by Marianne Wanamaker of the University of Tennessee. Our second LEAP Lecture was presented by Emmanuel Akyeampong of Harvard University. Watch their lectures below.


Staff, Research Affiliates, Visitors & Friends, Students

Sophia du Plessis

Faculty (Economics)

Dieter von Fintel

Faculty (Economics)

Johan Fourie

Faculty (Economics)

Bokang Mpeta

Faculty (Economics)

Calumet Links

Faculty (Economics)

Jan Greyling

Faculty (Agriculture)

Anton Ehlers

Faculty (History)

Simon Bekker

Faculty (Sociology)

Jan Luiten van Zanden

Extraordinary professor

Marianne Wanamaker

Research affiliate

Martine Mariotti

Research affiliate

Erik Green

Research affiliate

Leigh Gardner

Research affiliate

Nonso Obikili

Research affiliate

Katherine Eriksson

Research affiliate

Kara Dimitruk

Postdoc (Economics)

Edward Kerby

Postdoc (Economics)

Elie Murard

Postdoc (Economics)

Young-ook Jang

Postdoc (Economics)

Kate Ekama

Postdoc (History)

Lloyd Melosi Maphosa

PhD student (History)

Amy Rommelspacher

PhD student (History)

Nobungcwele Mbem

PhD student (History)

Farai Nyika

PhD student (Economics)

Lisa Martin

PhD student (Economics)

Karl Bergemann

PhD student (History)

Jason Lord

Graduate student (Economics)

Nadia Matulich

Graduate student (Economics)

Anneke de Ruyter

Graduate student (Economics)

Betty Chiwayu

Graduate student (Economics)

Rouzanne Carstens

Graduate student (History)

Laura Richardson

Graduate student (History)

Leila Bloch

Graduate student (History)

Beaurel Visser

Graduate student (History)

Kudzai Chidamwoyo

Graduate student (History)

Lesego Mabapa

Graduate student (History)

Brittany Chalmers

Graduate student (History)

Paige Smith

Graduate student (History)

Ilse Brookes

Graduate student (History)

Kelsey Lemon

Graduate student (History)

Jonathan Jayes

Graduate student (Economics)

Deporah Kapenda

Graduate student (Economics)

Lauren Coetzee

Graduate student (History)

Katherine Steinke

Graduate student (History)

Zander Prinsloo

Graduate student (Economics)

Tiaan de Swardt

Graduate student (Economics)

Former students and visitors

Francisco Marco

Former postdoc (History)

Jeanne Cilliers

Former PhD (Economics)

Christie Swanepoel

Former PhD (Economics)

Abel Gwaindepi

Former PhD (Economics)

Roy Havemann

Former PhD (Economics)

Heinrich Nel

Former PhD (Economics)

Timothy Ngalande

Former Masters (Economics)

Omphile Ramela

Former Masters (Economics)

Thoko Gausi

Former Masters (Economics)

Cailin McRae

Former Masters (History)

Joachim Wehner

Visitors & Friends

Felix Meier zu Selhausen

Visitors & Friends

David Bijsterbosch

Visitors & Friends

Angus Dalrymple-Smith

Visitors & Friends

Stefania Galli

Visitors & Friends

Mattia Bertazzini

Visitors & Friends

Igor Martins

Visitors & Friends

Laura Helfer

Visitors & Friends

Pablo Cebrian

Visitors & Friends



The programmes we offer.


An undergraduate course in Economic History and Economic Development is taught annually in the Department of Economics. Download the Work Programme below (PDF).



A graduate course in Institutional Economics is taught biannually in the Department of Economics. Download the Work Programme below (PDF).

Institutional Economics


A graduate course in Economic History is taught annually in the Department of Economics. Download the Work Programme below (PDF).

Economic History


A graduate course in Business History is taught annually in the Department of History.

Business History


We value our partnerships with these societies and institutions.


The first professor to be appointed in economic history at Stellenbosch was professor Sampie Terreblanche. Prof Sampie, as he was affectionately known, produced several books and monographs on economic history and the history of economic thought, with a particular focus on South Africa.

His full research repository is now available on a dedicated website.

Agency is a complex phenomenon. It has many dimensions: it concerns political participation, but also the degree to which people can decide about their marriage. It is related to economic decision making, to free access to markets and how much coercion there is in the organization of the labour supply, but also to the development of a civil society.

And ‘freedom’ as such is perhaps not a very meaningful thing in a complex, highly literate world; one has to possess the right skills – the human capital – to really participate in markets, political events and the civil society. Human capital is therefore a crucial link in the process: it is an essential precondition for real participation and autonomy.

Jan Luiten van Zanden, In Good Company (EHDR 2012, p. 5)


Get in touch if you have any questions or need more information.


LEAP, Department of Economics
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Matieland 7602


LEAP, Department of Economics
Schumann building, Bosman Street
Stellenbosch 7600
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