Economic History and Inquiry

I’m still thinking through the issues related to my last blog post and my research project, today’s post will be rather short. Since I have some free time this week, I decided to do a little browsing and came across these two interesting articles on Economic History and Historical methods written by economists.

The Historian’s Craft    and 1688 and All That.

The first article provides an interesting discussion on the relationship between economic history and the methods of historians. If you know anything about the history of economic history, then you are aware that in the 1970’s economic history underwent a revolution of sorts. Prior to that time economic history was a field that was friendly to varieties of heterodox economists with very little difference between what economists who wrote about economic history did and what historians who wrote about economic history did. After that, economic history became quantified, not as friendly to heterodox economics, and moved towards formal hypothesis testing with the use of econometrics. But as this article points out, that didn’t actually lead to better data or better use of data. I like the way that this article stresses the role of historian as an inquirer who looks at multiple sources of data in primary sources and tries to piece it together through inquiry. The author recommends that economists who write about economic history do the same. I agree.

The second article challenges prevailing interpretations of the Glorious Revolution in England amongst economists that the ascension of William and Mary led to more secure property rights and thus facilitated the earlier development of capitalism in England. As the author points out, this assertion is actually based on a careless reading and interpretation of the sources.


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