US economic historian who shared the Nobel Prize for Economics with Douglass North for creating ‘cliometrics’, or the New Quantitative Economic History. The arrival of ‘cliometrics’, a practice amongst some economic historians of marrying neo-classical economics and econometrics in the study of historical phenomena, was marked by the publication of Fogel's Railroads and American Economic Growth (1964).
Fogel later joined forces with economic historian S L Engerman to re-examine the economics of US slavery. Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery (1974) is undoubtedly one of the most controversial books that has ever been published about US history. It contested the orthodox view that slavery was an inefficient and unprofitable mode of production and argued that it was so efficient that only an extra-economic force like the Civil War could have brought about its downfall. Their book has been frequently translated and the literature of critical commentaries on it is now much longer than the book itself.
Fogel was born in New York City. He received a BA from Cornell University in 1948, an MA from Columbia University in 1960, and a PhD from Johns Hopkins University in 1963, by which time he had already published his first book on The Union Pacific Railroad (1960). He started teaching at Johns Hopkins University in 1958 but moved in 1959 to the University of Rochester. In 1964 he joined the University of Chicago, where he became a professor of economic history in 1965. In 1968 he combined this with a professorship at the University of Rochester, leaving both posts in 1975 to go to Harvard University. He returned to the University of Chicago in 1981 to become director of the Center of Population Economics, a post he held until his death.
He was president of the Economic History Association in 1977 and president of the Social Science History Association in 1980, and in 1978 established an economic history research programme at the National Bureau of Economic Research.
His other publications include The Reinterpretation of American Economic History (1971; with S L Engerman et al), Scientific History and Traditional History (1982; with G R Elton), Without Consent or Contract: The Rise and Fall of American Slavery (1989), The Fourth Great Awakening and the Future of Egalitarianism (2002), and The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700–2100: Europe, America, and the Third World (2004).