Economic History is Dead; Long Live Economic History

The Economist – “Economic history is dead; long live economic history,” Apr. 7, 2015

In this article, writers for The Economist defend the important role that historians of economics still (and must continue to) play in economics departments, despite the apparent decline of the study of economic history at the level of higher education. The authors write,

TWO years ago, in a very interesting paper, Peter Temin bemoaned the decline of economic history as a research topic at universities. He took the example of what happened at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to prove his point. There, the subject reached its peak in the 1970s, when three members of the faculty taught economic history. But from then it declined until economic history vanished both from the faculty and the graduate programme around 2010.

But is economic history really dead? Last weekend, Britain’s Economic History Society hosted its annual three-day conference in Telford, attempting to show the subject was still alive and kicking. The economic historians present at the gathering were bullish about the future. Although the subject’s woes at MIT have been echoed across research universities in both America and Europe, since the financial crisis there has been something of a minor revival. One reason for this may be that, as we pointed out in 2013, it is widely believed amongst scholars, policy makers and the public that a better understanding of economic history would have helped to avoid the worst of the recent crisis.

However, renewed vigour can be most clearly seen in the debates economists are now having with each other. In particular, three big questions in economics over the past few years have become battles over economic history, rather than theory in its own right.

For the full article, see The Economist website.