The following article was written by Barana Waidyatilake, alumnus of Trinity College Kandy who is now in his second year at the University of Melbourne. Barana was the top student in the subject "Generating the Wealth of Nations".
"I have always had an abiding passion for history, even though I didn't study it as a subject in school. I later developed an interest in economics, which I studied as a subject for my G.C.E. A/L. What could be better for me then, than a fusion of these two disciplines? This is what I found in the subject 'Generating the Wealth of Nations' which was offered as a first-year subject at the University of Melbourne.
Economic History proved to be a fascinating subject. The course attempted to probe the reasons for the disparities in the current levels of economic development amongst the world's nations, particularly the disparities between industrialised and 'Third World' nations.
There was a particular focus on how European colonialism affected the subsequent economic development trajectories of Third World nations. Coming from such a country myself, I found it extremely interesting to peel back the layers of history to uncover the root causes of my country's current economic woes. In addition, the course also included content on the 'East Asian Miracle' which lent further depth and complexity to my studies.
The achievements of nations such as Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan showed me that a past lived in the shadow of colonialism did not always condemn a nation to poverty; this piqued my interest in investigating the dynamics of the 'East Asian Miracle' and led me to wonder whether lessons learned from their experiences could benefit nations such as Sri Lanka.
Though the subject basically took a look back to see how countries arrived at their current levels of development, the primary benefit that I derived from learning this subject was that it helped create plans and a vision for the future.
'Learn from the past' is certainly not an outdated aphorism, and this subject proved it to me all the more clearly. I realized that, while our present condition is surely determined by the workings of historical processes, we are by no means the prisoners of those processes.
If anything, learning this subject showed me the immense opportunities of the present, and of the possibilities for breaking away from some sort of predetermined historical track. I researched this particular phenomenon in the essay that I wrote for this subject; it dealt with the divergence in the economic development paths of China and sub-Saharan African nations, and sought to explain the possible causes of this divergence.
Whilst the conclusions I drew from my research are another matter altogether, writing this essay simply enlightened me on how nations are not the pawns of supra-historical structures, but that they can actively carve their own destiny.
This infused me with new hope about the fate of my own nation, which has only now started to emerge from the ravages of a devastating 30-year old civil war.
As Sri Lankans begin building their lives anew after the tragedy, I also hope to contribute in my best possible capacity to the growth and development of my nation. I am confident that the insights that this subject has offered me would be invaluable in this respect".