Student Spotlight

Madeline Woker, PhD Candidate in History

Madeline Woker

Where did you grow up? 
Switzerland, France, Kuwait, and Singapore.

What drew you to your field? 
I first became interested in the history of taxation in 2013 while working in the Paris archives on the 1945 war tax declarations of wealthy individuals. It was a stunning discovery, and drew my attention to the crucial issues of tax fairness and wealth and income inequality. I then began to read everything I could on the subject. Thomas Piketty’s 2001 book Top Incomes in France in the Twentieth Century: Inequality and Redistribution, 1901–1998 made a great impression on me. That is also when I became very interested in French colonial history, and I soon decided to bring together these two domains of interest.

How would you explain your current research to someone outside of your field? 
My dissertation is a history of inequality and taxation in the French colonial empire between the 1920s and the 1950s. I study colonial tax regimes and the politics of taxation in the empire in order to understand how people and firms perceived and debated tax matters. Colonial seizure in the form of money or labor was done along racial lines, and generated inequalities that played no small role in the emergence of anti-colonial movements.

Other aspects of my research look at the early history of international corporate taxation, a topic very present in today’s conversations on global tax justice. I am particularly interested in how firms and individuals were already trying to evade taxes in the interwar years, especially in the colonies. The colonial genealogy of tax havens is a fascinating topic that is also discussed by the Canadian philosopher Alain Deneault and the historian Vanessa Ogle.

What is your favorite thing about being a student at Columbia GSAS?
I really appreciate the great intellectual stimulation that Columbia offers through the events organized on campus, as well as brilliant faculty and colleagues. I am particularly impressed with their passion and political acumen.

What resources or opportunities that Columbia provides have been most valuable to you?
Its libraries and online resources.

Who are your heroes in real life?
My partner, whose determination and intelligence have been a constant source of inspiration.

What music have you been listening to lately?
Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos and Handel’s Water Music.

What is your favorite blog or website?
Taxjustice.net, the website of the Tax Justice Network and its great podcasts. Recently, I have also spent a lot of time on mediapart.fr.

Where is your favorite place to eat on or around campus?
At home!