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Dr H.M. (Mac) Boot joined the staff of the Economic History Department at the Australian National as a lecturer in 1970. He retired as Head of Department in 2002 to join the School of Demography in the ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences (then called Demography and Sociology Program in the Research School of Arts and Social Sciences) where his research interests moved to British historical demography. During the last ten years or so Dr Boot’s time in the department of Economic History his interests focussed mainly on the history of wages and human capital formation between the mid-18th century and the late 19th century. This interest yielded four articles published in the Economic History Review between 1991 and 2006 on the relationship of relative growth earnings to the timing and relative improvement in human capital. An important sub-theme was the timing of the onset of sustained increases of the earnings between middle class and working class occupations, particular between the late 1780s and the 1850’s and , where possible, between men and women. These differences have long been the basis of significant differences in the interpretation of the Industrial Revolution and relative distribution of its benefits to different social classes in Britain.
Boot’s comparisons of middle class and working class earnings show how middle class earnings began to rise significantly earlier and faster that average working class earnings, and that male earnings in the cotton textile industry were significantly higher than female earnings even in similar occupations, though the male/female wage gap closed sharply between the late 1860s to the 1890s as the growing productivity of key male occupations in the industry increased the demand for adult female workers, whilst reducing the level of male skill required to maintain a give quality of their output. (EHR, ‘New Estimates…’, 2006). His belief was that the interpretation of increasing differences between earnings growth are easily distorted, partly because working class earnings are expressed as an average of many different occupations with a wide range of required skill levels and wage earnings. The great need was to identify the earnings of specific occupation groups. For example, the required levels of skill for men working, and their earnings, in the Boulton and Watt factories in Birmingham, increased rapidly in the late 18th century, whilst those of common labourers remain almost unchanged until well into the 19th century. Boot spent the last two years or so of his time in the Economic History Department collecting data from company archives and other sources of wage earnings between 1780 and 1850. His collection forms the greater part of this archive.