It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Gianni Toniolo, friend and contributor to CEPR, Research Professor of Economics and History Emeritus at Duke University, Senior Fellow, Professor at LUISS Guido Carli university.

Gianni Toniolo graduated in Economics at the University of Venice, his home town, in 1966 and began to study economic history as a research fellow at Harvard University in 1967-68 under the supervision of Alexander Gerschenkron. These were exciting times for economic history, as the Cliometrics Revolution was sweeping the United States. Gianni returned to Italy with the mission of diffusing the new approach in his mother country and in the long run this met with success, after a long and sometimes difficult slog. The Italian university system in the 1970s was sclerotic and economic history was dominated by a clique of old fashioned baroni, who were hostile to any American novelty and had the power to block academic careers in the discipline (the rules have now changed somewhat). Gianni had to win a chair in economics, and then move to economic history, in order to overcome their opposition. This was in the 1990s.

In the meantime, he had impressed his mark on the discipline with his research on the Fascist economy and with his work as an academic organiser. In the 1970s, the Fascist economy was still a politically hot topic in Italy so it was not easy to treat the economic policy of the regime as an object of scientific study rather than the expression of a dictator pandering to the interests of a small elite of landowners and industrialists. Gianni organised a conference on the issue at Perugia in 1975 and then wrote a book (L’economia fascista) which is still a major reference for that period. His interest in interwar economics line of research culminated in the 1997 book on The European Economy Between the Wars, co-authored with Charles Feinstein and Peter Temin.

Back in Italy, Toniolo had previously edited a book with the early research results of the small and marginalised group of ‘cliometricians’ working on Italy, including Jon Cohen, Stefano Fenoaltea, Vera Zamagni and Pierluigi Ciocca. The latter was by then starting a brilliant carrier in the Bank of Italy which was to bring him to a very high rank in the Bank hierarchy. The friendship and collaboration with Ciocca were essential to the renovation of Italian economic history. In 1984, they jointly revived the Rivista di Storia Economica, which had been founded by Luigi Einaudi in 1936 and had ceased publication in 1943. In their first editorial statement, Ciocca and Toniolo proposed an innovative research agenda, suggesting the use of economic reasoning to interpret history rather than looking for historical evidence to confirm theoretical models. After a somewhat bumpy history, the RSE is now establishing itself as an important outlet for new research. The relationship with the Bank of Italy has proved essential in Toniolo’s work for the renovation of Italian economic history. The Bank not only helped the Rivista financially but also established an economic history office which published a large number of volumes with documents and original research by bank staff and external scholars. Furthermore, the Bank funded the publication of the The Oxford Handbook of the Italian Economy Since Unification, edited by Toniolo in 2013. The book is a landmark in Italian economic history. Its chapters deal with all the traditional topics in economic and business history, including a new set of national accounting series, but also more modish themes such as education, social capital and the view of Italian industrialisation abroad. Consistently with Toniolo’s early work on the fascist economy and his interest on post-war developments, the book considers Italian economic history from Unification to the late 2000s as a whole, ignoring the traditional divisions between liberal Italy, the fascist period and postwar development. In the introduction to the book, Toniolo exploits this long-term perspective to put forward his own view of Italian economic history as a success story largely determined by its relation to the international economy. Italy thrived when the world economy was growing and the nation opened to trade and capital flows, while Italy stagnated when attempting to be self-sufficient. This view inspired also another book, co-authored with Carlo Bastasin, about the recent predicaments of the Italian economy in long run perspective (La strada smarrita, or the way lost). A revised version is going to be published by Cambridge University Press.

Toniolo also had a major impact as an organiser on the international profession.  In the 1990s he and Nick Crafts directed a comparative and historical CEPR project on the European economy. The results were published as a volume on Economic Growth Since 1945. This book and the earlier one on European economic history have a made a lasting mark, and stand out for the way in which they seek out commonalities between the experiences of European countries during two very different epochs. In the 1990s there was no formal home for economic history in CEPR, although other programmes were supportive of economic history and provided it with temporary accommodation. From 2000 onwards Gianni organised a series of meetings that eventually led to the creation of an Economic History Initiative at CEPR in 2004, thus preparing the way for a full CEPR Economic History Programme from 2012. Although he chose to remain in the background and took no credit for his efforts, he was pivotal in promoting his field within Europe’s most influential economics research network.

In his last years, Toniolo had been working on a last major scientific project, the (quasi-official) history of the Bank of Italy. He finished the first volume covering the period to 1945, and was working on the second volume, from 1945 to  present. About one month before Toniolo’s untimely death, the Bank organised a workshop on his work on Italian economic history and on central banking and an official presentation of the first volume, with a speech by the governor, Ignazio Visco. This proved to be the culmination of a long and highly distinguished scientific career.

Obituary written by Giovanni Federico, Stephen Broadberry and Kevin O’Rourke.