Elisabeth Köll

Elisabeth Köll


William Payden Associate Professor of History


Chinese Socio-Economic and Business History


Executive Education Certificate, Harvard Business School, 2008
D. Phil., Modern Chinese History, University of Oxford, 1998
M.A., University of Bonn, Germany, 1992

Research and Teaching Interests

Business and economic history of Greater China and East Asia, 19th century to the present; relationship between government, markets, and local society; comparative history of industrialization, technology transfer, and engineering; infrastructure development, especially railroads, and its impact on socio-economic mobility.


Elisabeth Köll pursued her undergraduate education at the University of Bonn in Germany and at Fudan University, Shanghai. She received her Ph.D. in Chinese Business History from Oxford University where she was a Rhodes Scholar. Based on prior teaching experience in the setting of a history department as well as a business school, Elisabeth’s course portfolio includes courses on Chinese business, economic, and social history as well as on doing business in contemporary China.

Elisabeth's research focuses on the managerial, legal, and financial evolution of firms and entrepreneurship in China from the 19th century to the present. Her book From Cotton Mill to Business Enterprise: The Emergence of Regional Enterprises in Modern China shows how concepts, definitions, and interpretations of property rights, corporate structures, and business practices in contemporary China have to be analyzed in terms of their historical, institutional, and cultural roots.

Her new book, Railroads and the Transformation of China, addresses the emergence of railroad infrastructure and how technology transfer, railroad construction and management have contributed to China’s economic and political development as a modern nation-state. 


Selected Publications:

Railroads and the Transformation of China. Cambridge/MA.: Harvard University Press, January 2019.

“The Making of the Civil Engineer in China: Railroad Companies, Knowledge Transfer, and Professional Management,” in Knowledge Acts in Modern China: Ideas, Institutions, and Identities, Robert J. Culp, Eddy U and Wen-hsin Yeh (eds.),(Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley, 2016).

“Professional Managers at Political Crossroads: Hsia Pin-fang at the Bank of China in New York and London, 1939-1951,” in The Capitalist Dilemma in China’s Communist Revolution, Sherman Cochran (ed.) (Cornell East Asia Series, 2014)

With David Faure, “Insurance in China: The Introduction and Indigenisation of the Industry,” in World Insurance: The Evolution of a Global Risk Network, Peter Borscheid and Niels Viggo Haueter (eds.) (Cambridge University Press, 2012)

“A Fine Balance: Chinese Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurship in Historical Perspective,” in William C. Kirby (ed.), The PRC at 60—An International Assessment. (Harvard University, East Asia Center, 2011)

“Chinese Railroads, Local Society, and Foreign Presence: The Tianjin-Pukou Line in pre-1949 Shandong,” in Manchurian Railways and the Opening of China: An International History, Bruce A. Elleman and Stephen Kotkin (eds.), (M.E. Sharpe, 2010)

With William N. Goetzmann, “Paying in Paper: A Government Voucher from the Southern Song,” William N. Goetzmann and K. Geert Rouwenhorst (eds.), The Origins of Value: The Financial Innovations That Created Modern Capital Markets (Oxford University Press, 2005)

With William N. Goetzmann, “The History of Corporate Ownership in China: State Patronage, Company Legislation, and the Issue of Control,” in Randall K. Morck (ed.), A History of Corporate Governance around the World: Family Business Groups to Professional Managers. (The University of Chicago Press, National Bureau of Economic Research series, 2005).

From Cotton Mill to Business Empire: The Emergence of Regional Enterprises in Modern China. (Harvard University Press, 2003)


Contact Information

Office: 473 Decio
Phone: 574-631-9827

Mailing Address:
Department of History
219 O'Shaughnessy Hall
Notre Dame, IN 46556


Download CV