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Economic historian


Economic historian

This article is about the academic field. For historical events, see Economic history of the world. For changes in economic ideas, see History of economic thought.

Economic history is the study of economies or economic phenomena in the past. Analysis in economic history is undertaken using a combination of historical methods, statistical methods, and by applying economic theory to historical situations and institutions. The topic includes business history, financial history and overlaps with areas of social history such as demographic history and labor history. Quantitative (econometric) economic history is also referred to as Cliometrics.[1]

Development as a separate field

Treating economic history as a discrete academic discipline has been a contentious issue for many years. Academics at the London School of Economics and the University of Cambridge had numerous disputes over the separation of economics and economic history in the interwar era. Cambridge economists believed that pure economics involved a component of economic history and that the two were inseparably entangled. Those at the LSE believed that economic history warranted its own courses, research agenda and academic chair separated from mainstream economics.

In the initial period of the subject's development, the LSE position of separating economic history from economics won out. Many universities in the UK developed independent programmes in economic history rooted in the LSE model. Indeed, the Economic History Society had its inauguration at LSE in 1926 and the University of Cambridge eventually established its own economic history programme. However, the past twenty years have witnessed the widespread closure of these separate programmes in the UK and the integration of the discipline into either history or economics departments. Only the LSE and the University of Glasgow retain separate economic history departments and stand-alone undergraduate and graduate programmes in economic history. The LSE, Glasgow and the University of Oxford together train the vast majority of economic historians coming through the British higher education system.

In the US, economic history has for a long time been regarded as a form of applied economics. As a consequence, there are no specialist economic history graduate programs at any mainstream university anywhere in the country. Instead economic history is taught as a special field component of regular economics PhD programs in some places, including at University of California, Berkeley, Harvard University, Northwestern University and Yale University.

In recent decades economic historians, following Douglass North, have tended to move away from narrowly quantitative studies toward institutional, social, and cultural history affecting the evolution of economies.[2][a 1] However, this trend has been criticized, most forcefully by Francesco Boldizzoni, as a form of economic imperialism "extending the neoclassical explanatory model to the realm of social relations."[3] Conversely, economists in other specializations have started to write on topics concerning economic history.[a 2]

History of capitalism

Main article: History of capitalism

Since 2000 the new field of "History of Capitalism" has appeared, with courses in history departments. It includes topics such as insurance, banking and regulation, the political dimension, and the impact on the middle classes, the poor and women and minorities.[4]

Relationship between economics and economic history

Have a very healthy respect for the study of economic history, because that's the raw material out of which any of your conjectures or testings will come.

- Paul Samuelson (2009)[5]

Yale University economist Irving Fisher wrote in 1933 on the relationship between economics and economic history in his "Debt-Deflation Theory of Great Depressions" (Econometrica, Vol. 1, No. 4: 337–338): 'The study of dis-equilibrium may proceed in either of two ways. We may take as our unit for study an actual historical case of great dis-equilibrium, such as, say, the panic of 1873; or we may take as our unit for study any constituent tendency, such as, say, deflation, and discover its general laws, relations to, and combinations with, other tendencies. The former study revolves around events, or facts; the latter, around tendencies. The former is primarily economic history; the latter is primarily economic science. Both sorts of studies are proper and important. Each helps the other. The panic of 1873 can only be understood in light of the various tendencies involved—deflation and other; and deflation can only be understood in the light of various historical manifestations—1873 and other."

There is a school of thought among economic historians that splits economic history—the study of how economic phenomena evolved in the past—from historical economics—testing the generality of economic theory using historical episodes. US economic historian Charles P. Kindleberger explained this position in his 1990 book Historical Economics: Art or Science?.[6] One of the professional societies for economic historians in Europe is also called the European Historical Economics Society to reflect this emphasis.

The new economic history, also known as cliometrics, refers to the systematic use of economic theory and/or econometric techniques to the study of economic history. The term cliometrics was originally coined by Jonathan R. T. Hughes and Stanley Reiter in 1960 and refers to Clio, who was the muse of history and heroic poetry in Greek mythology. Cliometricians argue their approach is necessary because the application of theory is crucial in writing solid economic history, while historians generally oppose this view warning against the risk of generating anachronisms. Early cliometrics was a type of counterfactual history. However, counterfactualism is no longer its distinctive feature. Some have argued that cliometrics had its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s and that it is now neglected by economists and historians.[7]

Nobel Prize winning economic historians

Notable economic historians

See also



Further reading

  • Attacks how rational-choice theory has been used; proposes renewing the field using Continental traditions.
  • Crafts, N.F.R. (1987). "Economic history", The New Palgrave: A Dictionary of Economics, v. 2, pp. 37–42.
  • Field, Alexander J. (2008). "Economic history", Abstract.
  • Mokyr, Joel, ed. (2003), The Oxford Encyclopedia of Economic History. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 5 vols. Description.

External links


  • links, v. 1, 2007–
  • links, v. 1927–
  • : Issue & article, v. 7, 1969–
  • links, v. 1, 1971–

Professional societies

  • Economic History Society (UK), publisher of the Economic History Review
  • Economic History Association (US), publisher of the Journal of Economic History
  • The European Association for Banking and Financial History e. V., publisher of the Financial History Review
  • International Economic History Association (IEHA)

Historical statistics

  • Groningen Growth and Development Centre Total Economy Database—Series on GDP, Population, Employment, Hours worked, GDP per capita and productivity (per person and per hour) from 1950 up to 2006
  • Global Finance data series
  •—Links to historical economic statistics for different countries and regions.
  • , OECD, Paris.

Recent and forthcoming economic history conferences

  • Economic History Society Annual Conference 2010
  • Economic History Association Meetings 2010
  • XV World Economic History Congress 2009
  • XVI World Economic History Congress 2012
  • Eighth Conference of the European Historical Economics Association

Economic History Services

  • inflation calculator.
  • EH.Net Encyclopedia:
    • Australia
    • Hawaii
    • Hong Kong
    • Indonesia
    • Israel
    • Japan
    • Korea
    • Malaysia
    • New Zealand
    • Norway
    • Portugal
    • Sweden
    • Taiwan
    • Uruguay
  • EHE - An Economic History of Europe—For students of economic history, includes links to major databases, technology descriptions, examples of use of data, a forum for economic historians.

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