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In memory of Professor Nick Crafts – valued colleague, mentor and friend

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In memory of Professor Nick Crafts – valued colleague, mentor and friend

  • The Department is deeply saddened by the passing of Professor Nick Crafts, who died on 6 October 2023 after a long illness.
  • Nick was a brilliant economist and one of the world’s leading economic historians, who will leave an enduring legacy. He was also the founding Director of the CAGE Research Centre.
  • Further tributes to Professor Crafts can be read here.

Professor Crafts began his long association with the Department of Economics in its first decade, joining as a lecturer in 1972. While his career took him to a number of prestigious UK and US institutions, he rejoined Warwick as Professor of Economic History in 1988 and returned again in 2006. He retired from Warwick in 2019, moving to Brighton to be nearer his family and taking up a part-time position at the University of Sussex.

In 2010 Professor Crafts became the founding Director of the CAGE research centre, an ESRC-funded centre. During his 10 years as Director he oversaw the development of the Centre into a vibrant research community and personally contributed a large amount of impactful and policy-relevant research.

Nick's pioneering work on British economic growth in the Industrial Revolution made his early reputation. He became a specialist in the long-run sources of economic improvement in many regions. His insights into 20th century British economic history were widely sought by policymakers and his CV includes spells consulting for HM Treasury, the IMF and the World Bank.

He was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1992 and awarded the CBE for services to Economics in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, 2014. In 2022 Professor Crafts was made a Fellow of the Economic History Association, and in 2022-23 he served as President of the Royal Economic Society.

Tributes to Professor Crafts follow:

Professor Ben Lockwood, Head of Department, commented:

“Nick and I were colleagues for over 15 years and we also both served on the REF2014 panel. During that time - and on many other occasions - I came to him for advice and always benefited from his wise counsel. His death is a great loss for both the Economics Department and the economics profession.”

Professor Mirko Draca, who succeeded Professor Crafts as Director of CAGE, comments:

“Nick was a phenomenon. Intellectually-driven rather than career-driven, able to move between the big picture and small picture with ease, unflaggingly energetic, down-to-earth, shrewd, streetwise, really damn clever and, at a personal level, thoughtfully humane. I will miss him so much."

Professor Jeremy Smith, Head of Department from 2016 to 2022, said:

"I am sure I will echo the sentiments of many colleagues when I say that Nick was a person I admired greatly. He was clearly a fantastic academic who was very highly respected in his field, but his involvement in activities beyond academia speaks volumes for the high regard in which he was held more generally.

"Nick understood the need to contribute to University life beyond through his teaching and research and contributed in a great many ways to the life and functioning of the Department. He was HoD when I was appointed and I am eternally grateful that he gave me a chance to contribute to the Department.

"When I took over as HoD, Nick was there to offer advice and guidance and to put me on the right path when I invariably made a wrong call. Being a HoD is not straightforward and dealing with the all different parties you answer to is never straightforward - I would therefore seek out Nick's advice, which was always considered, and was almost always the correct advice to follow. I will always be grateful to Nick for the guidance he offered me."

Professor Sascha Becker worked closely with Professor Crafts during his time as Director of CAGE. He wrote:

"Nick Crafts' death makes me incredibly sad. We spent nearly a decade together "running" CAGE at the Warwick Department of Economics as Director and deputy.

"Nick was born in the same year as my father, but from day one he treated me as his equal. We met or corresponded pretty much daily.

"Nick was such a wise man. A non-tribal economic historian. He was broad-minded and hugely respected by economists and policy makers alike. When he talked, the room listened.

"Witty, kind, wise.
"I will dearly miss you, Nick

CAGE Research Director Professor Bishnupriya Gupta writes:

"Nick Crafts brought to economic history new ideas, new ways to think of old questions. As a colleague, mentor and friend, Nick was an inspiration to me and many others and helped us to grow as economic historians. He will be missed."

Professor Wiji Arulampalam writes:

"The passing of Nick came as a terrible shock to me. I came to know him when he joined the department. Although I did not work closely with him, I have attended many seminars where he had been either presenting or was in the audience. He always makes pertinent points. He was an immense scholar and I always valued his opinions. As the Chair of the department, he was always very professional and treated everyone fairly and equally. He will be very much missed."

Guillermo Carnicero writes:

I had the honour (and sadness) of being part of Nick Crafts's last cohort of students at Sussex during this year's spring term. He was one of the best professors I ever had and surely the best academic who ever taught me. It wasn't just that he was a real expert in the field of cliometrics - his lectures would always be engaging, and the work in the seminars would prepare us to be very good economists, putting evidence and sound analysis at the core of our work. Also, I knew I shouldn't miss the opportunity always to gain more insights and hear what he had to say about so many different topics in economic history, so I would regularly attend his office hours. I fully remember how he would come up with quotes from books written decades ago and spend a fair amount of time digging into their content to ensure I could get the most out of the question. The more I knew him, the more I realised that a real top academic and economist has to be humble because the learning journey is infinite, and there's so little we can get to know. He never came across as someone with ego, but with intellectual honesty and a profound desire to help everyone engage with the course. Looking back, I can say that what I learned with him at university shaped me the most as an economist, and his insights about the British economy and our discipline will always be at the core of my current career as a Fast Stream Economist in the Civil Service. Rest in peace."

Dr Olga Christodoulaki writes:

"I was fortunate and honoured to have Nick as one of my PhD supervisors at the LSE. His unique combination of academic skills and his wisdom as a person made him the best supervisor one could dream of having. I will always be grateful for the time, advice and guidance he offered me. I send my deepest condolences to his family."

Professor Guillaume Daudin, Professor of Economics at the University of Paris-Dauphine (LEDa-DIAL), writes:

"Nick Crafts changed my life. He accepted to look after my PhD based on the most flimsy evidence on my capacity to conduct one. That was quite a bet. But then, he was good at beating the odds! He was an exceptional PhD supervisor. In retrospect, I  can hardly believe his generosity with his time. He made my time at the LSE under his supervision the most professionally fulfilling time of my life. I am deeply thankful. I feel a great loss. His family must feel a much larger one, and I fully sympathise with them and will keep them, and him, in my prayers."

Jose Gregorio Diaz-Bahamonde of the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile writes:

"I send my sincere condolences from Chile. Professor Crafts' work is a fundamental reference for a better understanding of economic development. Reaching his academic rigor is a challenge for any serious researcher. We will miss him."

Dr Yannick Dupraz, Research Assistant Professor at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) based at the Aix-Marseille School of Economics (AMSE), writes:

"I will remember Professor Nick Crafts as an amazingly kind and generous mentor. He always took time to discuss research with me, and his insights were always so useful, even though I was working on a field, African economic history, a little bit far from his expertise (but was any field of economic history really far from his expertise?) Nick Crafts did so much for CAGE, for Warwick University, and for economics and economic history."

Professor James Fenske writes:

"I am saddened to learn of Nick's passing. I knew of him as an undergraduate, and I have known him since I was a PhD student. He had a major influence on my thinking - and the thinking of the whole profession - on some of the most important questions in economic history. He was a generous colleague and inspired multiple generations of students to take interest in our shared field."

Dr Alan Fernihough, lecturer in Economics at Queen's University Management School, and Research Associate at Queen's University Centre for Economic History, writes:

"I was very lucky to have had Nick as a PhD examiner, and I’ll never forget our post-viva conversation which was one of the best moments of my life. Nick was brilliant, and his knowledge of so many areas of economics and history was truly remarkable and made him both a legendary scholar and wonderful companion. His loss is a huge one for economic history. Please accept my deepest condolences."

Professor Alexander J. Field, Michel and Mary Orradre Professor of Economics at Santa Clara University, writes:

"I first got to know Nick Crafts in 1982-83, when he visited Stanford, where I had recently served as an assistant professor. Nick rented a house on Roosevelt Circle, less than half a mile from where we lived, and although I cannot say we kept up closely after that, we would from time to time see each other at academic conferences. Our research interests overlapped, and came increasingly to do so over the past quarter century, when I joined him in using the tools of growth accounting to explore the processes of economic advance. Both of us ended up influenced by and building upon the work of Moses Abramovitz. And both ended up giving an Abramovitz lecture at Stanford after Moe died, Nick in 2003 (I believe it was the first) and me in 2021 (I think the most recent). Finally, we shared a birth year, barely a month apart, which makes his passing have special significance for me. We will miss him."

Professor Sir Roderick Floud writes:

"I knew Nick as a colleague for over 50 years; he was an excellent economic historian and a genuinely nice person, always ready to debate and always taking comments seriously. He made really important contributions to many fields of economic history and certainly ranks at the very top of our profession. I was particularly impressed by the way that he developed an ability to communicate with a wide audience, exemplified by "Forging Ahead, Falling Behind and Fighting Back". He will be greatly missed."

Maureen Galbraith, Economic & Social History Society Secretary at the University of Glasgow, writes:

"I had the pleasure of working with Nick when he was President of the Economic History Society. I am very sorry for the family's loss. A lovely man - kind, funny, and a straight talker."

Dr Mario Cuenda Garcia writes:

"I recently obtained my PhD in Economic History at the LSE, and my passion for Economic History started nine years ago when as an undergraduate at the University of Warwick I was introduced to Professor Nick Crafts' research. Economic History became my research pathway. I remember having the chance to meet Professor Nick Crafts at the Warwick Economics Summit in person. I will always remember and cherish the moment I met and chatted with one of the most influential economic historians of all times. May he rest in peace."

Emeritus Professor of Politics Wyn Grant comments:

"I had the great privilege of teaching Making of Economic Policy with Nick for several years. I learnt a great deal from him, indeed I once told him that I intellectually pillaged his work for textbooks on economic policy. I was surprised to learn of his interest in the turf, he even wrote an article on it. Despite his great knowledge, I always found him down to earth and unassuming. A great loss as an academic and a person."

Emeritus Professor Mark Harrison remembers a valued colleague and friend:

“Nick and I must have met in 1967 -- we were in the same year as undergraduates (but in different colleges, and at that stage I did not know him well). Then he was a colleague at Warwick, several times, because he kept leaving and coming back (he often referred to himself as a repeat Warwick recidivist).

“As a colleague he was a steadying influence and a voice of reason, something that I linked with his inclination to take the long view in economic history. At least twice, I am sure, he gave me advice that made a difference. One thing I missed after Nick left for Brighton (or since the pandemic, which must have been roughly the same time) was being able to drop by his office and find out what he thought about the world. He was always sensible, and usually very funny. Anyway, I owe him a lot."

Professor Tim Hatton, Professor of Economics at the University of Essex, writes:

"I am shocked and deeply saddened by the news that Nick has passed away. He was an incredible scholar and a huge influence on many of us. I first met him when we both arrived at Warwick in 1972, him as a lecturer and me as a first year student. He was my personal tutor. We got on well and he persuaded me to take his second year course on the Industrial Revolution. The course material was simply a five-page single spaced reading list. His lecturing style was magnetic and, with wry humour, he expertly dissected the literature. It was a revelation and a road map to making sense of the diverse and sometimes turgid texts. He had an amazing command of the subject—just three years out from his undergraduate degree! (Something that really came home to me some years later when I tried to teach it myself). It was compelling stuff, and he is the main reason that I followed a career in economic history. He will be sorely missed."

Professor Alfonso Herranz-Loncán, Professor of Economic History at the University of Barcelona, writes:

Nick was the best Economic History teacher I ever had. His teaching and his generosity while he was my supervisor at the LSE were absolutely crucial for my further research career. I owe him so much, and his death has been a terrible shock. Hasta siempre, Nick

Warwick alumnus Tamas Hontvari (PPE, class of 2018) writes:

"When we came in as first year students we were blown away by the immense knowledge that Professor Nick Crafts had. His lecture was head and shoulders above any other and really set the benchmark for our undergraduate years. Many thanks for your inspiration and rest in peace Sir!"

Wolf-Fabian Hungerland, economist in Germany's Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Action and research fellow at the Institute of Economic History of Humboldt-University of Berlin, writes:

"Just a few days ago I mentioned him once again as the best - and funniest! - professor I ever had. What I learned from his class on international economic institutions after World War I still serves as the backbone for my work now. RIP."

Warwick Economics alumnus Ali Jasem writes:

"Nick was genuinely one of my favourite professors. He did not just teach extremely well, but was very warm and generous with his time. I spent good amount of times in his office discussing history and they were amongst my best memories at Warwick. I will miss him, and wish his family and friends all the best in this difficult time."

Former CAGE Centre co-ordinator Helen Knight writes:

"I am so very sorry to hear of Nick's passing. He was a wonderful Director to work with - patient, wise and kind. He made me feel valued as a member of CAGE, and supported the development of my career by encouraging me to take opportunities to learn, travel and experience the world of academia. I will be forever grateful for my time working with him. My sympathies to his family, friends and colleagues."

Professor Sibylle Lehmann-Hasemeyer, Professor for Economic and Social History at the Economics Department of the University of Hohenheim, writes:

"His work and passion for economic history and understanding growth and its reversal have shaped and inspired me and my work since my PhD. My thoughts and prayers are with his family at this difficult time."

Dr Tim Leunig, Associate Professor, Department of Economic History, LSE, said:

"I first met Nick at the Edinburgh EHS conference when I was a grad student. I went to the conference dinner with Mary Mackinnon who was, I think, his former student. I had worked out that not everyone was interesting, and asked Mary to sit at a table with interesting people. She chose Nick's table. I had given a young researchers’ session, and Nick complimented me on what I had said. We talked for a while across the table, before I had to say that I didn’t know who he was and that he was not wearing his conference badge. People smiled around the table, and he put it on. But the print was small, so I asked him outright who he was. People smiled even more. "Professor Crafts. (pause) You may have heard of me". At that point I wanted the earth to swallow me up, but he said it with a smile, and obviously didn't mind. He went on to appoint me to my LSE post, and we were co-authors, ran EH101 together and had adjoining offices. He was a delight in every way, and I missed him when he left."

Dr Eric Melander, assistant professor in economics at the University of Birmingham, writes:

"'Please, Nick, show us another growth accounting table', I hear you say." For reasons unknown to me, these words, said tongue-in-cheek in a first-year undergraduate economic history lecture, are among my most vivid memories of Nick. Though said in passing, to me they encapsulate Nick's greatness: his wealth of knowledge on the big questions that really matter and his unfailing wit. I have benefited greatly from Nick's wisdom and generous advice. He will be missed."

Professor Stephen Morgan, Emeritus Professor of Chinese Economic History at the University of Nottingham, writes:

"So sad to hear of Nick's exit from this mortal world. He was so concise in his analysis grounded as always in theory. I learned a lot from reading his work and the occasional times I interacted."

Professor Robin Naylor said:

"I knew Nick from 1981 at University College Oxford and, with David Miles, took over his college tutoring role for a year when Nick was on sabbatical leave. Warwick Economics has benefitted greatly from Nick's academic work and profile, and from his leadership roles in the Department, both through CAGE and, prior to that, as Chair. Nick had a most remarkable intellect, and was very much one of a kind. He - and not least that knowing glint in his eye (half challenging, half conspiratorial) - will be much missed."

Professor Dennis Novy writes:

"Nick was the rare scholar you could truly look up to and respect. He was a towering figure in economics and a wonderful colleague. This is a big loss for our profession and beyond. We will sorely miss him."

Professor Andrew Oswald writes:

"Nick was wonderfully likeable. He treated me well from the very start of my time at Warwick, for which I was terribly grateful, and so often he had that penetrating intellect and smiling (occasionally almost impish) cheeriness that I always valued and I will always remember. He made a tremendous contribution during his life -- particularly to our Department.

Professor Nuno Palma, Professor of Economics at the University of Manchester, writes:

"I had many interactions with Nick over the years, and learned a lot from him. He was always cheerful and supportive, and will be remembered as one of the greats of his generation."

Dr Claudia Rei writes:

"I arrived at Warwick shortly before Nick retired, but I’ve known his work ever since I learned Economic History was a field within Economics. The profession has lost one of its greatest minds."

Professor Jonathan Reinarz, Professor of the History of Medicine at the University of Birmingham, writes:

"I met Professor Crafts while doing my PhD at Warwick in the History Department on the history of brewing. Periodically, I would attend the economic history seminars in Economics, and Professors Crafts, Broadberry and others, with their commitment to academic debate and open rigorous discussion, would remind me why I chose to study in the UK. When I finished my thesis, Professor Crafts invited me to lunch at his home and encouraged me to interview his neighbour, Ivy, who worked in the brewing industry for decades. It was nice to know he remembered me from his seminars and included me in his lunch plans as well. I recently watched a recorded lecture given by him at the Legatum Institute and his sharp and concise delivery was as impressive as ever. He was a collegial academic, who I have regularly remembered with gratitude over the years."

Dr Jose Rowell Corpuz, Assistant Professor of Economics, writes:

"As my PhD supervisor, Nick cared and made me feel valued as an academic and a researcher. He was so wise and knowledgeable and so humble at the same time. I have been collecting rejection letters from journal editors, but he told me to keep going with my research. He said that the key to publishing is persistence and that I should never give up. Professor Crafts was a great supervisor and mentor, and I will miss him so much."

Professor Mar Rubio Varas, Professor of Economic History at Universidad Publica de Navarra, writes:

"Nick profoundly impacted my life, leaving an indelible mark on both my academic journey and personal path. Initially, he guided me as my MSc tutor, and later, as my PhD supervisor. However, his influence extended far beyond academia, as he played a pivotal role in facilitating my year-long stay at UC Berkeley, an experience that unexpectedly transformed my family life, shaping it to this day. Nick possessed a unique blend of warmth, wit, and kindness. His remarkable memory allowed him to recall anything he had read, and his intellectual curiosity led him to explore subjects well beyond his theoretical expertise. This insatiable hunger for knowledge made him an invaluable source of wisdom. The loss of Nick is deeply felt within our profession, but its impact reaches even further, touching the lives of those fortunate enough to have known him."

Professor Daniel Sgroi writes:

"As an undergraduate in the early 1990s, I studied Nick’s brilliant reinterpretation of British economic growth. Years later it was with considerable excitement that I joined the faculty at Warwick and finally met Nick in person. Nick fulfilled all of my expectations and more: not only was he clearly brilliant but his wisdom and kindness proved invaluable over the years that followed. Nick welcomed me into CAGE, supported my work and provided me with a constant source of invaluable advice. The world will be a dimmer place without him, but Nick’s work remains pioneering and essential, and many generations to come will benefit from the trail that he blazed."

Professor James Simpson, Professor of Economic History at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, said:

"Nick was a good friend. I will greatly miss Nick's wit and intellect. A rare combination in academia. Thank you."

Dr Kevin Tennent Reader in Management at the School for Business and Society, University of York, writes:

"Sorry to hear about Nick's passing away. I was taught by Nick at LSE, and later contributed research to the work he did on railways. I learned a lot about teaching and economics from Nick. He was an excellent communicator, very good at explaining complex ideas, and always very down to earth."

Emeritus Professor Mike Waterson writes:

"Nick was a man of great intelligence and also great wisdom, a rare and valuable combination of qualities."

Professor Nikolaus Wolf, Professor of Economics and Economic History at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, writes:

"Nick was like a rock to me and to many others: extremely witty and successful yet unpretentious, honest and down-to-earth. You could simply rely on him. As a person and by his work Nick Crafts convinced many fellow economists and policy-makers that economic history has something to say - and that it is even fun to listen."

Dr Meng Wu, British Academy Postdoc Fellow in Economics at the Economics Department of the University of Manchester, writes:

"It is a great pity that I never talked with Nick. However, as a PhD student and a mother-to-be, I participated in the CAGE summer school in 2017 and learned how Nick excelled in his lecture on Britain's Industrial Revolution. Nick's work is essential reading for my students. Although he left us, he has sowed seeds for future economic historians for generations."

Dr Nicholas Zammit, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto, writes:

"Nick was one of my two PhD supervisors at the University of Warwick. He took a massive interest in my training and professional growth. He was always the person I looked to for advice. It always felt like Nick was in my corner fighting for me and pushing me to develop. I find it hard to express how significant his contribution was to my career and my life. Nick really shaped who I became as an educator and he inspired a continued passion for Economic History that has remained. I can hardly teach a single lecture in Economic History without mentioning some piece of wisdom, some funny sidebar or a deep insight that wasn't inspired by him or directly involving him.

"I had always planned to return to Warwick and let him know how much he had influenced almost everything I do. I expected that trip was coming and I would get the chance to thank him personally for everything. Unfortunately that was not to be. Hopefully this reaches someone that loves him and helps to paint the picture of how important he was to so many. My one example shows how he created ripple effects around the world that will continue for many lifetimes."

Further tributes to Professor Crafts can be read here.

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