Pre-colonial History and Colonial Rule in Myanmar: Does the Timing of Centralization Matter?

Htet Thiha Zaw (University of Michigan)

Abstract: How does the history of state-society relationship affect local development? Between the late 18-th century and the British colonial rule in 1886, the pre-colonial Burmese state appointed village headmen in the places where hereditary line of succession became extinct before British direct rule, which represents early centralization, while other places maintained hereditary village headmen before British direct rule, which represents late centralization. I construct three original datasets of pre-colonial revenue inquests, British colonial gazetteers, and geo-location of armed conflicts in Myanmar, and supplement my analysis with household survey data, geo-coded data of government schools, and nighttime satellite data, and find that the areas with relative proximity to historical towns and villages with early centralization tend to experience more contention with the colonial and the post colonial states, such as higher presence of coercive institutions and lower presence of welfare institutions that persist to the present day. In addition to focusing on a case that is underrepresented in the literature, the findings call for a further understanding of the role of colonial policy in post-colonial development by looking at its interaction with the pre-colonial history.