Dr Benjamin Huf

BComms RMIT, PostGradDip Melbourne, PhD ANU
Postdoctoral Research FellowLaureate Research Program in International History

A18 - Brennan MacCallum Building
The University of Sydney

Biographical details

I am a historian of Australia and nineteenth-century British imperialism and international history, with particular interests in political economy and the history of economic thought. My research focuses on the construction and politics of economic knowledge and economic governance in various contexts, drawing upon intellectual, cultural and economic history, with safe dosages of social theory.

As Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Laureate Program in International History, I am working on several projects concerned with the making of international economies, including histories of public debt and economic statistics. With Dr Yves Rees, I have recently coordinated a series of workshops and symposiums aimed at developing new interdisciplinary approaches to the history of Australian capitalism, whose findings will be presented in several forthcoming publications. With Professor Glenda Sluga, I am editing a forthcoming issue of Australian Historical Studies on New Histories of Australian Capitalism.

Prior to joining the University of Sydney, I taught various courses in history, sociology and communications at the University of Melbourne and Australian National University. I was awarded my PhD by the ANU in 2018.

Research interests

  • Australian history
  • Nineteenth-century British imperialism
  • International history
  • History of economic thought
  • History of social sciences
  • History of money

Current projects

I am presently working on several projects that examine the makings of modern economic governance in Australia, Britain and internationally.

My major focus is a book project, the working title of which is Economic Imperialism: Theory, Government and the British World, 1788-1886. Mediating between the intellectual history of British political economy, and the emergence of new forms of official inquiry and administration in nineteenth-century British imperialism, this project examines the ways in which an ‘economic’ way of knowing, arguing and justifying came to permeate Anglophone governance during the nineteenth century. Encompassing comparisons across Britain’s settler empire, but with particular focus on the relationship between Britain and Australia, and Australia’s remarkably rapid rise to prosperity, the project recovers the bureaucratic processes by which familiar practices – land settlement, migration, commodity production (wool and gold) and trade – were reclassified as distinctly ‘economic’ problems, regulated by the imperatives of supply and demand, and processes of production, distribution and wealth accumulation. As imperial and colonial authorities adopted political economy as the language of government, so they enacted and institutionalised the subjects and phenomena political economy purported to describe. This, I argue, laid the groundwork for economics’ rise as the master discourse of twentieth-century governance.

From this major project stems several minor projects currently in preparation for publication. This includes a history of Australian economic statistics; a comparative history of foreign public borrowing in colonial Canada and Australia; the 1930s invention of ‘the Australian economy’ as an object of government and its subsequent afterlives; the intersections between settler historiography and validations of wealth-accumulation; and a history of the rival conceptions of economic justice, first articulated in the writings of Burke and Paine.

With Dr Mike Beggs, I also am in the early stages of a new research project into the monetary history of colonial Australia, entitled “Colonial Liquidity”. This project draws on heterodox monetary economics to re-examine the kinds of social relations and hierarchies created by the plethora of credit instruments used in the Australian colonies, and to examine their intersections with the the rise of colonial banking. In so doing, we hope to shed new light on the nature of monetary relations in colonial Australia, and to develop a more general recasting of the nature and power structures of monetary relations in capitalist economies.

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