Disdain or paranoia for historians of economics?


The organizers of Duke’s Summer Institute on the history of economics were so worried that students might be embarrassed to ask their supervisors for a letter of recommendation, or that the supervisors would say it’s a waste of time to study history, so they took a last minute decision to cancel the need for a letter of recommendation.

Despite the fact that they offer student stipends of $2,000 and that it is taught by top class academics. In Realpolitik and economic terms, the need for a letter of recommendation is of course a barrier to entry, so maybe it was not an optimal screening mechanism to begin with, but it seems - to me - a little paranoid.

I understand the strategic thinking that we want to encourage students to write part of their thesis with a historical method and even teach history… But doing that behind the supervisors back might not be the most cunning of tactics. Or perhaps there is such widespread disdain for the history of economics that this is the only way. For my part I can’t see that things are this bad State-side - but I may be isolated from the worst of it here in Europe?

Somewhere between INET’s support, the recent crisis and the widespread demands for more history and context in economics teaching, perhaps the way forward would be to play on those strengths, rather than hide our light under a bushel. If we keep hiding, the current moment will pass and we can go back to the tactics of cloak and dagger, but until then, maybe we need a slogan along the lines of: “We’re here, we’re Historians, get used to it!” - Well, maybe not those words exactly, but you get the gist.

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