Saturday, March 6, 2021

Historians and Economic Historians in Conversation


The video of Historians and Economic Historians in Conversation from Economics for Inclusive Prosperity is now available. The conversation includes Trevon Logan, Jonathan Levy, Suresh Naidu, Gavin Wright, Caitlin Rosenthal and Shari Eli is available now.

My brief summary is that historians and economists should try to communicate more even when it is difficult. Communication would be easier if historians learned more about quantitative analysis and economists spent more time in archives.

I also liked Shari Eli’s observation about the loss of context in much of economic history. I remember Doug North describing economic history as telling a story constrained by theory and evidence, and I sometimes think that economist economic historians have become so focused on getting the theory and the evidence right that they forget to tell a story. We write about the economics of slavery, and banking, and railroads, but give much less attention to bringing these studies together into an overarching story.

Eli suggests that economists should write more books. I have heard Price Fishback make a similar argument. Price has tried to promote this through the Markets and Governments in Economic History series that he edits for the University of Chicago. I know that our overriding goal in the book that we wrote for that series Bankrupt in America, was to not just get the theory and the evidence right but to tell a story about the history of bankruptcy in the 20th century United States. 

Personally, I think people also need to avoid blanket criticism of other people’s disciplines. If you haven’t found valuable work done by economists, sociologists, political scientists, anthropologists, and historians it is because you are not looking.

By the way if you are looking for interesting social science from a wide variety of disciplines Broadstreet Blog provides a really nice example.


Finally, a rod of warning. The video cuts out with Caitlin Rosenthal in mid-sentence.


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