The History of Development

‘If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development’ (Aristotle).

To understand something, and therefore be able to change it, its past must be understood.  The past has had a great influence on development and to change the present we must look at the past.  The history of colonialism, changes in gender equality and advances in technology have all affected the state of development today.

Before the 1929 Colonial Development Act, colonial assistance was only given by colonising countries in emergencies (Abbott, 1971).  This act led to annual grants and loans being provided to promote economic development and gave a recommended breakdown of how the money should be spent (Abbott, 1971).  This shows the beginning of development assistance for less developed countries and the introduction of the concept of aid.  However, this may not have been a good thing as the act was ‘too rigidly administered’ (Abbott, 1971 p.80) to allow for any local variation of projects to suit particular regions and people.  Giving aid through colonial assistance has potentially caused more harm than good.  At the Berlin Conference 1884-85, Africa was divided between the colonial powers ‘without any regard for social cohesion’ (Baah, 2003 p.1).  At the time, this was done without any thought for the future of Africa, but splitting tribes between countries may have led to many of the problems of civil war in Africa today.

Similarly, decisions about gender equality have been made in developed countries and expected to be implemented all over the world.  Equality between men and women has been recognised in international law since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 (Connell, 2005) yet in many societies women still do not have the same opportunities as men.  Women still have ‘command over fewer resources both in terms of political power, economic power and time’ (United Nations Development Programme).  It was not until the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 that a global Platform for Action was agreed upon to work on empowerment of women (United Nations Development Programme).  This shows that it can take a long time for ideas in development to become implemented.  When decisions are made and laws are passed, they may be put out of the minds of those who decided them without any thoughts for implementing them across the world.

A young girl in Pakistan walks 30 minutes for unclean drinking water

A young girl in Pakistan walks 30 minutes for unclean drinking water

Advances in technology are another example of something which will benefit the West but not those in developing countries.  An example of this is access to clean drinking water.  Expected in the U.K. and other developed countries, the technology enabling this has been around for many years.  However, there are still 1.1 billion people who lack access to ‘improved’ water supply and the lack of clean water is responsible for 1.8 million deaths per year (WHO, 2007).  Under the UN Millennium Development Goal to ensure environmental sustainability is the goal of halving the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water (UN).  The cost of achieving this – $11.3 billion a year (WHO, 2005) – is achievable, so why is it not reality?  Advances in technology, while seen as beneficial, actually increase the divide between developed and developing countries.

History has shaped the present of development in many different ways.  Looking back at history can show why some countries are more developed than others and show the influence of the past on the present and future.  I believe without understanding the past of development, the future can’t be changed.


Abbott, G. (1971) ‘A Re-Examination of the 1929 Colonial Development Act’, The Economic History Review, New Series, 24(1) pp. 68-81

Baah, A. (2003) ‘History of African Development Initiatives’ Africa Labour Research Network Workshop, Johannesburg

Connell, R.W. (2005) ‘Change Among the Gatekeepers: Men, Masculinities, and Gender Equality in the Global Area’, Signs, 30(3) pp. 1801-1825

United Nations, Goal 7: Ensure Environmental Sustainability. Available from: (accessed 28/11/2012)

United Nations Development Programme, Gender and Inequality and the History of Gender Mainstreaming. Available from: (accessed 28/11/2012)

World Health Organisation (2007), Combating Waterborne Disease at the Household Level. Available from: (accessed 28/11/2012)

World Health Organisation (2005), Water for Life: Making it Happen. Available from: (accessed 28/11/2012)

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4 Responses to The History of Development

  1. I really like how you have use different factors to discuss in relation to history. I found it really interesting comparing the UK water with undeveloped countries as it helps to show the disparity. I also like the evidence you used with gender equality to show that through history is can take a long time for things to develop- this really focuses on the topic. If I had to give improvements, possibly have a stronger conclusion with a personal response to how you see history affecting the present.

  2. I found it really interesting how you concentrated on three topics, gender, colonialism and technology, especially technology as I never really consider it although it is a vital topic to consider. Maybe you could think of more reasons in the history of development that shaped the past and write about them briefly. I would also try and strengthen your opening and closing paragraph. But on a whole it is a really interesting and you have pointed out some very good points which obviously came from your extensive reading list, well done!

  3. Choosing the three topics you did made for an interesting read, and like the others have said the part on technology opened my eyes to something I had never really thought of before. I didn’t think this piece was quite as strong as your previous writing as I thought each paragraph could have done with slightly more development, however the extended reading you have done is obvious. I liked the short introduction as it gave an insight into what the piece was about but perhaps work a little bit on the conclusion.

  4. I thought your choice of examples was good, and that this offered you a number of interesting and important insights into the role of history in shaping development. I felt you could have drawn these out more, and that as Tesni suggests, a stronger opening and closing paragraph would really help frame the piece. I also wonder if you might think about the order your examples come in, in terms of the points you’re making with them & about making those points more explicit, so that they become more part of an analysis you’re making about the past in the present. It would also help the piece to flow better, as it feels a little choppy at the moment. It would be also good to think more about power: there are reasons why it’s been such a long hard slog to get gender equality onto the development agenda and for why the original aims of those who have tried to get development concerned with gender have been so distorted in the response the industry has made, and it would be good to analyse this a bit more. Lastly, a tip: use hyperlinks for the web references.

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