Economic historian Brendan Thompson died earlier this year. His life’s scholarship involved calculating a series oft he New Zealand workforce. The paper reports on this work, and provides some of the aggregate data which Brendan had produced.
Brendan James George Thompson, senior lecture in eco-nomic history at the University of Waikato, died in January 1996, at the age of 52. He is affectionately remembered by his family, his friends, and his colleagues and students for his enthusiasm and commitment, his loyalty and integrity, to individuals, to his discipline, to the academy, and to the wider public. But for even longer he will be remembered by the scholarly community for his life ‘ s work of the construction of a long run series of the New Zealand labour force. This paper provides an overview of his painstaking work.
Following his completion of a Masters degree at the Uni versity of Canterbury, Brendan was a student at the University of Pennsylvania from 1970 to 1972, where he graduated at the top of the masters class in economic history in 197 1 and was awarded a Pennsylvania Scholarship. He registered for a doctorate on the topic of the industrial structure of the New Zealand work force. He wanted to create data series which would be internationally comparable, and originally in-tended to do some international comparisons, for Brendan was very interested in c ross national comparisons. Indeed he did some such comparisons in the 1990s, but it was the task of compiling the data upon which he most worked. A brief record of his life appears in appendix I, while his publications list in Appendix ll. He planned a monograph out of this work, which he described in a curriculum vitae prepared in 1994 as follows:
Industrial Structure of the New Zealand Work Force
“I also plan to continue the years of work that I have done on the industrial structure of the New Zealand work force. My chapter in the ESCAP monograph on New Zealand is a preliminary study. To be really useful the subdivisions need to be finer. The potential contribution of this work to General History is enormous ….
“The final series will also be used to provide better historical GDP estimates than we have at present. An-other series that could be derived from it could be used to help illuminate regional variations within New Zealand history.
“This project has involved an immense amount of work so far. Three previous researchers have already attempted it and given up, defeated by the complexities. I have progressed further than any of my predecessors and am convinced that all that is required are time and, above all, persistence. Much more tedious, detailed work needs to be done, the major stumbling block being the interwar years. The figures for that period need to be revised because the censuses on which they are based are so inaccurate. They can be improved using alternative sources. “
Thus Brendan left only a partially completed manuscript of Industrial Structure in New Zealand (hereafter ISNZ). A brief summary of its contents is provided in Appendix Ill. Yet ironically, the work up to 1921 was close to completion. Perhaps by the time Brendan realized that it could be completed the final illness had exhausted the strength he had. But perhaps the perfectionist in him meant that he always wanted to do a little more work-” polishing” he liked to call it.
There is a rather special feature of the Thompson work force series compared to most of the quantitative historical series academics have constructed. Usually series (I include my own), are constructed for a particular purpose, which deter-mines the effort that is put into them. If there was time the quality of the series could have been improved, but there never is, for there is always another task to be tackled, another series needed for it. Brendan ‘s series was con-structed with a more general purpose in mind -not for a particular task-but a s a series in its own right which would be used by any scholar knowing that it was the very best available.
The full paper is here.