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 branch—in this case, econometric—study of economic history is also known as cliometrics.
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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 historical school of economics included other economists such as Max Weber and Joseph Schumpeter who reasoned that careful analysis of human actions, cultural norms, historical context, and mathematical support was key to historical analysis. The approach was spread to Great Britain by William Ashley and dominated British economic history for much of the 20th century. Britain's first professor in the subject was George Unwin at the University of Manchester. 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 and the University of Edinburgh retain 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 United States, 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 at leading universities, including University of California, Berkeley, Harvard University, Northwestern University, Princeton University, the University of Chicago 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. 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.
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.
The first journal of economic history was the The Economic History Review, founded in 1927, as the main publication of the Economic History Society. The first journal featured a publication by Professor Sir William Ashley, the first Professor of Economic History in the English-speaking world, who described the emerging field of economic history. The discipline existed alongside long-standing fields such as political history, religious history, and military history as one that focused on humans' interactions with 'visible happenings'. He continued, '[economic history] primarily and unless expressly extended, the history of actual human practice with respect to the material basis of life. The visible happenings with regard-to use the old formula-to "the production, distribution, and consumption of wealth" form our wide enough field'.
Later, the Economic History Association established the The Journal of Economic History in 1941 as a way of expanding the discipline to the United States. The first president of the Economic History Association, Edwin F. Gay, described the aim of economic history was to provide new perspectives in the economics and history disciplines: 'An adequate equipment with two skills, that of the historian and the economist, is not easily acquired, but experience shows that it is both necessary and possible'.
More recently, newer academic journals have broadened the lens with which economic history is studied. These interdisciplinary journals include the Business History Review, European Review of Economic History, and Financial History Review.
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
- Moses Abramovitz
- Robert Allen
- T. S. Ashton
- Correlli Barnett
- Jörg Baten
- Maxine Berg
- Jean-François Bergier
- Ben Bernanke
- Francesco Boldizzoni
- Leah Boustan
- Fernand Braudel
- Rondo Cameron
- Sydney Checkland
- Carlo M. Cipolla
- Gregory Clark
- Thomas C. Cochran
- Nicholas Crafts
- Louis Cullen
- Peter Davies (economic historian)
- Brad DeLong
- Melissa Dell
- Barry Eichengreen
- Stanley Engerman
- Charles Feinstein
- Niall Ferguson
- Ronald Findlay
- Moses Israel Finley
- Irving Fisher
- Brian Fitzpatrick
- Roderick Floud
- Robert Fogel
- Milton Friedman
- Celso Furtado
- Alexander Gerschenkron
- Claudia Goldin
- Jack Goldstone
- John Habakkuk
- Earl J. Hamilton
- Eli Heckscher
- Eric Hobsbawm
- Leo Huberman
- Harold James
- Geoffrey Jones (academic)
- Ibn Khaldun
- Charles P. Kindleberger
- John Komlos
- Nikolai Kondratiev
- Simon Kuznets
- Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie
- Naomi Lamoreaux
- David Landes
- Tim Leunig
- Friedrich List
- Robert Sabatino Lopez
- Angus Maddison
- Peter Mathias
- Ellen McArthur
- Deirdre McCloskey
- Joel Mokyr
- Douglass North
- Nathan Nunn
- Cormac Ó Gráda
- Patrick K. O'Brien
- Henri Pirenne
- Karl Polanyi
- Erik S. Reinert
- Christina Romer
- W. W. Rostow
- Murray Rothbard
- Joseph Schumpeter
- Anna Jacobson Schwartz
- Larry Schweikart
- Ram Sharan Sharma
- Robert Skidelsky
- Adam Smith
- Graeme Snooks
- Richard H. Steckel
- R. H. Tawney
- Peter Temin
- Adam Tooze
- Eberhard Wächtler
- Jeffrey Williamson
- Tony Wrigley
- Jan Luiten van Zanden
- For example:
• Gregory Clark (2006), A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World, Description, contents Archived 2011-12-30 at the Wayback Machine, 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
- Berg, Maxine L. (2004) ‘Knowles , Lilian Charlotte Anne (1870–1926)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, accessed 6 Feb 2015
- Berg, M. (1992). The first women economic historians. The Economic History Review, 45(2), 308–329.
- 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.
- 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
- Ashley, William (1927). "The Place of Economic History in University Studies". The Economic History Review. 1 (1): 1–11.
- Heaton, Herbert (1941). "The Early History of the Economic History Association". The Journal of Economic History. 1.
- Gay, Edwin F. (1941). "The Tasks of Economic History". The Journal of Economic History. 1.
- 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. doi:10.2307/2595495. JSTOR 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.
- Blum, Matthias, Colvin, Christopher L. (Eds.). 2018. An Economist’s Guide to Economic History. Palgrave.
- 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. 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. 32.
- Gras, N. S. B. (1927). "The Rise and Development of Economic History". Economic History Review. 1 (1): 12–34. doi:10.2307/2590668. JSTOR 2590668.
- Mokyr (ed.), Joyr (2003). "Economic Encyclopaedia". The Oxford Encyclopedia of Economic History. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 5 vols.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
- 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. doi:10.1257/089533002760278749. JSTOR 3216953.
- O’Rourke, K. (2019). Economic History and Contemporary Challenges to Globalization. The Journal of Economic History, 79(2), 356-382.
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