Last updated on 21 October 2017
Economic history is the study of economies or economic phenomena of the past. Analysis in economic history is undertaken using a combination of historical methods, statistical methods and the application of economic theory to historical situations and institutions. The topic includes financial and business history and overlaps with areas of social history such as demographic and labor history. The quantitative—in this case, econometric—study of economic history is also known as cliometrics.
Development as a separate field
In Germany in the late 19th century, scholars in a number of universities, led by Gustav von Schmoller, developed the historical school of economic history. It ignored quantitative and mathematical approaches. Historical approach dominated German and French scholarship for most of the 20th century. The approach was spread to Great Britain by William Ashley, 1860–1927, and dominated British economic history for much of the 20th century. In France, economic history was heavily influenced by the Annales School from the early 20th century to the present. It exerts a worldwide influence through its Journal Annales. Histoire, Sciences Sociales.
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 retains a separate economic history department and stand-alone undergraduate and graduate programme in economic history. Cambridge, Glasgow, the LSE and Oxford together train the vast majority of economic historians coming through the British higher education system today.
Meanwhile, in the US, the field of economic history has in recent decades been largely subsumed into other fields of economics and is seen as a form of applied economics. As a consequence, there are no specialist economic history graduate programs at any universities anywhere in the country. Economic history remains as a special field component of regular economics or history PhD programs in universities including at University of California, Berkeley, Harvard University, Northwestern University and Yale University.
Economic history and economics
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: 337–38):
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?.
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.
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.[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." Conversely, economists in other specializations have started to write on topics concerning economic history.[a 2]
Economic history and the history of capitalism
A new field calling itself the "History of Capitalism" has emerged in US history departments since about the year 2000. It includes many topics traditionally associated with the field of economic history, such as insurance, banking and regulation, the political dimension of business, and the impact of capitalism on the middle classes, the poor and women and minorities. The field utilizes the existing research of business history, but has sought to make it more relevant to the concerns of history departments in the United States, including by having limited or no discussion of individual business enterprises.
Nobel Memorial Prize-winning economic historians
- Simon Kuznets won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences ("the Nobel Memorial Prize") in 1971 "for his empirically founded interpretation of economic growth which has led to new and deepened insight into the economic and social structure and process of development".
- Milton Friedman won the Nobel Memorial Prize in 1976 for "his achievements in the fields of consumption analysis, monetary history and theory and for his demonstration of the complexity of stabilization policy".
- Robert Fogel and Douglass North won the Nobel Memorial Prize in 1993 for "having renewed research in economic history by applying economic theory and quantitative methods in order to explain economic and institutional change".
- Merton Miller, who started his academic career teaching economic history at the LSE, won the Nobel Memorial Prize in 1990 with Harry Markowitz and William F. Sharpe.
Notable economic historians
- ^ For example:
• Gregory Clark (2006), A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World, Description, contents, ch. 1 link, and Google preview.
• E. Aerts and H. Van der Wee, 2002. "Economic History," International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences pp. 4102–410. Abstract.
- ^ For example: Carmen M. Reinhart and Kenneth S. Rogoff (2009), This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly. Princeton. Description, ch. 1 ("Varieties of Crises and their Dates," pp. 3–20), and chapter-preview links.
- ^ See, for example, "Cliometrics" by Robert Whaples in S. Durlauf and L. Blume (eds.), The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics, 2nd ed. (2008). Abstract
- ^ Robert Forster, "Achievements of the Annales school." Journal of Economic History 38.01 (1978): 58–76. in JSTOR
- ^ Charles P. Kindleberger (1990), Historical Economics: Art or Science?, University of California Press, Berkeley
- ^ Whaples, Robert (2010). "Is Economic History a Neglected Field of Study?". Historically Speaking. 11 (2): 17–20 & 20–27 (responses). doi:10.1353/hsp.0.0109.
- ^ Douglass C. North (1965). "The State of Economic History," American Economic Review, 55(1/2) pp. 86–91.
- _____ (1994)."Economic Performance through Time," American Economic Review, 84(3), pp. 359–68. Also published as Nobel Prize Lecture.
- ^ Boldizzoni, Francesco (2011). The Poverty of Clio: Resurrecting Economic History. Princeton University Press. p. 18. ISBN 9780691144009.
- ^ See Jennifer Schuessler "In History Departments, It’s Up With Capitalism" New York Times April 6, 2013
- ^ Lou Galambos, "Is This a Decisive Moment for the History of Business, Economic History, and the History Of Capitalism? Essays in Economic & Business History (2014) v. 32 pp. 1–18 online
- ^ Clarke, Conor (June 18, 2009). "An Interview With Paul Samuelson, Part Two". The Atlantic. Retrieved November 26, 2011.
- Bairoch, Paul (1995). Economics and World History: Myths and Paradoxes. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226034631.
- Barker, T. C. (1977). "The Beginnings of the Economic History Society". Economic History Review. 30 (1): 1–19. JSTOR 2595495. doi:10.2307/2595495.
- Baten, Jörg; Muschallik, Julia (2012). "The Global Status of Economic History". Economic History of Developing Regions. 27 (1): 93–113. doi:10.1080/20780389.2012.682390.
- Cameron, Rondo; Neal, Larry (2003). A Concise Economic History of the World: From Paleolithic Times to the Present (4th ed.). New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195127056.
- Cipolla, C. M. (1991). Between History and Economics: An Introduction to Economic History. Oxford: Blackwell. ISBN 0631166815.
- Costa, Dora; Demeulemeester, Jean-Luc; Diebolt, Claude (2007). "What is 'Cliometrica'?". Cliometrica. 1 (1): 1–6. doi:10.1007/s11698-006-0001-1.
- Crafts, N.F.R. (1987). "Economic history". The New Palgrave: A Dictionary of Economics. vol.2.
- Kadish, Alon. Historians, Economists, and Economic History (2012) pp. 3–35 excerpt
- Deng, Kent (2014). "A survey of recent research in Chinese economic history". Journal of Economic Surveys. Cambridge.
- Field, Alexander J. (2008). "Economic history". The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics.
- Galambos, Lou (2014). "Is This a Decisive Moment for the History of Business, Economic History, and the History Of Capitalism?". Essays in Economic & Business History.
- Gras, N. S. B. (1927). "The Rise and Development of Economic History". Economic History Review. 1 (1): 12–34. JSTOR 2590668. doi:10.2307/2590668.
- Mokyr (ed.), Joyr (2003). "Economic Encyclopaedia". The Oxford Encyclopedia of Economic History. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Temin, Peter (2014). "New Economic History in Retrospect and Prospect" (PDF). Economic History and Economic Development. National Bureau of Economic Research (No.w20107).
- Roy, Tirthankar (Summer 2002). "Economic History and Modern India: Redefining the Link". The Journal of Economic Perspectives. American Economic Association. 16 (3): 109–30. JSTOR 3216953. doi:10.1257/089533002760278749.
- 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
- Our World In Data – web publication by Max Roser (at the University of Oxford) that visualises how living standards around the world changed. Makes data available and covers a wide range of topics: Trends in health, food provision, the growth and distribution of incomes, violence, rights, wars, energy use, education, environmental changes and many other aspects are empirically analysed and visualised in this open access web publication.
- Global Finance data series
- Historicalstatistics.org – Links to historical economic statistics for different countries and regions.
- Maddison (2006), The World Economy, OECD, Paris.
Recent and forthcoming economic history conferences
Economic History Services
- EH.Net Economic History Services – Includes Economic History Encyclopedia, Ask the Professor, Book Reviews, databases, directories, bibliographies, mailing lists, and an inflation calculator.
- EH.Net Encyclopedia
- 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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