Talk:Economic history

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First statement[edit]

Just wanted to query this first statement:

Economic history is the application of economic theories to historical study.

That would be described as historical economics. The Economic History I'm familiar with is simply the historical study of economic activity - production, trade, growth and decline of industries, government policy etc. The history of economic theories may be dealt with, but this isn't the same at all. Mattley (Chattley) 18:08, 4 February 2006 (UTC)

History of economic theories is generally labelled "History of Economic Thought". If you're an economist then "Economic history" is basically what the article says it is. If you're a historian then "Economic history" is something, well, here I don't know as much but more like "Labor history" or "Business history". Perhaps there should be some explanation of the different usages of the terms. radek 07:26, 6 March 2006 (UTC)
Mattley is correct, and I have changed the definition in line with the more accepted formulation. I hear the other formulation from time to time, but never from fellow economic historians. Curiously, no one ever describes military history as the application of military theories to historical study. John G Walker 12:56, 21 April 2006 (UTC)
The definition is contested and the article ought to reflect this. I'll attempt to deal with this.JQ 22:10, 21 April 2006 (UTC)
Unfortunately none of the various economic history societies that I'm aware of offer a definition of economic history. Working from such definitions would otherwise be a good way forward. My impression is that there may be a difference between the usage of the term in different parts of the English-speaking world. As someone familiar with economic history as practised in the UK I find it hard to see what "the application of economic theories to historical study" can really mean, in terms of the work I'm familiar with. Nor can I see what kind of economic history cannot be described as "the historical study of economic activity". Major economic histoy societies across the world publish and publicise work that can appropriately and usefully described as "the historical study of economic activity". A very large proportion of it makes little or no reference to anything that could be described as "economic theory". This may be the bias of a historian, but it strikes me that economic history is primarily a sub-field of History rather than of Economics, in that most practioners are drawn from and work within the conventions and assumptions of History. This is certainly the case with economic history in the UK, which is invariably interconnected with social history, both in teaching and research - something which the Economic History Association reflects. Or perhaps social history is "the application or social theories to historical research" and this has passed me by as well? On a non-facetious note, I would welcome some clarification of what "the application of economic theories etc" means in practice. Mattley (Chattley) 00:49, 22 April 2006 (UTC)
It's my impression that economic history is regarded as either a separate discipline or a subfield of history in the UK, while in the US it is regarded as a subfield of economics. Australia has gone from the UK model to the US in the past thirty years. Most separate departments of economic history have been merged into economics departments. This partly reflects a general administrative push for bigger organisational units, but it also reflects an increasingly dominant view that the same body of theory and methods should be applied to the past as to the present. To put some names into the discussion, I don't think you can reasonably advocate, as the one "correct" definition of economic history, a definition that would exclude Nobel prizewinners like Fogel and North.
To answer your final question, consider the Great Depression. As an economist, I would find it strange to see an analysis of the Great Depression that was not based on macroeconomic theory or, conversely, a macroeconomic theory that could not account for the Great Depression. In fact I'd say that the absence of such an account is one of the reasons New Classical economics never gained much traction. JQ 03:58, 22 April 2006 (UTC)
I don't know a great deal about Fogel and North, but I don't see where a problem arises of excluding them from a definition. It seems to me that both cases reinforce the need to offer a broad definition in the first instance which can then be elaborated with reference to differing approaches and techniques. In Fogel's profile [1] he presents himself as helping to pioneer the application of models and techniques drawn from economics to economic history. Evidently US economic historians have been deeply touched by this approach, but it surely an approach, not the thing itself. Douglas C. North begins his Nobel prize presentation as follows:
Economic history is about the performance of economies through time. The objective of research in the field is not only to shed new light on the economic past but also to contribute to economic theory by providing an analytical framework that will enable us to understand economic change.
This suggests that he sees history informing theory as much as, if not more than theory makes sense of history. It would be very interesting and useful to write about the impact such practitioners have had on the field, variations in approach/methodology including differences in the way the discipline is understood in different countries. However, no matter how it is approached, the subject matter can still be accurately and usefully (i.e. to people who do not already know) be described as economic activity in past societies, good examples of such activity being such things as production, trade, the growth and decline of individual industries or businesses, governmental intervention and policy etc. This does not exclude anyone, so what is wrong with it? Mattley (Chattley) 12:44, 22 April 2006 (UTC)
Just a quick note, Africa isn't a country, so maybe it should be "A list of economic histories" or something like this?
Also, Former industrialized economies is misleading. What is think is meant is Second World, as these countries are still industrialized. Sometimes industrialized is used interchangeably with developped or a member of the Global North, but most wealthy soceities are serviced based, and some developing countries are highly industrial (Brazil for example), so I think the continued use of "industrialized" is uninformative.
Finally, I would hope that most economies with histories would be historical economies. This is redundant. What I believe is meant is "States no longer in existence" or "Former States". OneWorld22 22:28, 6 January 2007 (UTC)

Proposal to merge Cliometrics into this page[edit]

I propose to merge Cliometrics, which is the quantitative study of (economic) history, into the economic history article. The cliometrics article is much more developed, but economic history is the broader concept. Also, an observation: the current economic history article contains much more about the history of economic history than about the topical content or discoveries of economic history. The Cliometrics article's content would provide needed meat to the economic history article. Comments and ideas for alternatives welcome, of course. Jeremy Tobacman 21:55, 21 April 2007 (UTC)

Then, logically, shouldn't econometrics be merged with economics and biostatistics with biology? I think cliometrics deserves its own article. Are we lacking space on Wikipedia? - Duribald 23:04, 22 April 2007 (UTC)
C'mon, of course not. Jeremy Tobacman 01:42, 24 April 2007 (UTC)
No, expand this article rather then get rid of Cliometrics which deserves its own. Note also that "Cliometricians" tend to have their conferences, discussion lists, etc. radek 00:05, 23 April 2007 (UTC)
Not to mention that cliometrics is not a favourite of many economic historians. It's not a universal method. - Duribald 10:09, 23 April 2007 (UTC)
Right, ultimately the best structure would be a much-expanded version of the economic history article, with a section on Cliometrics, which links to a full, separate article on Cliometrics. Lacking expertise to write the balanced article on economic history, I thought-- and still think-- the merger would be an improvement for now. Jeremy Tobacman 01:42, 24 April 2007 (UTC)
This one. — LlywelynII 05:02, 22 October 2015 (UTC)

Putting economic history into the page[edit]

I've made a rudimentary start on this by shoving in a few categories. I would appreciate it if people could fill it out with material they can add (even if by cutting and pasting!) Wikidea 10:12, 28 September 2007 (UTC)

Cleaning up[edit]

I have done a light clear up of this page, which needs some more serious work done on it to make it acceptable, including proper referencing. 31 March 2009. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 18:06, 31 March 2009 (UTC)


The current definition is atrocious. Economic history is not the study of economics, as the recently edited definition claims. What was wrong with the earlier one used here? I vote a return to "Economic history is the study of how economic phenomena evolved from a historical perspective." Or perhaps "economic history is the study of economies or economic phenomena in the past." Signed: an LSE economic historian, 13:48, 17 June 2011. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk)

Well, the first one is academic gobbledygook (MOS:JARGON) and the second one is an actual and appropriate definition in clear English, so we should probably go with that one. — LlywelynII 05:00, 22 October 2015 (UTC)

'History of Capitalism'[edit]

I don't think this should be on the economic history page. Looking at the authors mentioned in the articles it seems to be primarily a social analysis of the history of a particular type of economic system. There's a pretty big methodological gap and difference in subject between the two. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Samael92 (talkcontribs) 19:00, 23 September 2014 (UTC)

methodology gap--are new methods not allowed? is methodology locked in place? Oh no, says Galambos, citing Schumpter and many others, it's a matter of creative destruction of old models that are no longer competitive. Wikipedia goes with the experts, as in his keynote address at the 38th Annual Economic and Business History Society Conference in 2013. That makes for a pretty authoritative case. Now let's name some scholars who think the history of capitalism does NOT belong under "economic history." Rjensen (talk) 19:28, 23 September 2014 (UTC)
That's not the argument I am making. Methodology is not 'locked in place', but if you use the tools and techniques of a discipline, in the area of that discipline, and then claim it belongs to another then you are sorely mistaken. Capitalism has been dealt with at length in economic history; it is hardly a 'new movement'. The new courses referred to are primarily concerned with 'narrative' history with elements of sociology. Economic history concerns itself with explaining why things occurred using economic theory and quantifying impacts/influences through econometric analysis. These do not. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Samael92 (talkcontribs) 20:34, 23 September 2014 (UTC)
"you are sorely mistaken" --- says who??? Galambos says the reverse. Wiki editors' job is not to make up the rules but to report what is going on among scholars. Fact is, "economic history" has had multiple methods over the years, and in other countries like Britain, Japan, France & Germany. Rjensen (talk) 07:59, 24 September 2014 (UTC)
Let's set aside my doubts, assume that Galambos is correct, and say that this is a new subfield of economic history. Why is it deserving of special status? I see no link to the 'History of Communism'. I see no link to the 'History of the Industrial Revolution'. I see no link to the 'Great Divergence'. This is extremely selective and I suspect it's because people seem to conflate the study of economics with the study of capitalism. Samael92 (talk) 02:36, 9 October 2014 (UTC)


This probably is the most common use within our academic journals and other sources. It's what the academics get paid for doing. It is not what our readers are looking for when they want "economic history". They're looking for something closer to economic history of the world. (E.g., I was directed here by a misplaced link heading Trade#History which was obviously attempting to point at coverage of the topic, not the modern academic field studying the topic.) Which one wins in a fight like that? or is this a conditional thing where we ignore economic history of the world until it's in better shape? — LlywelynII 04:57, 22 October 2015 (UTC)

What's the question? The hatnote looks clear enough: "This article is about the academic field. For actual economic history, see Economic history of the world. For the history of economics itself, see History of economic thought." Do you have a change to suggest? Darx9url (talk) 03:47, 24 October 2015 (UTC)
Responding to the RFC. I have to agree with Darx, above: the way to fix this sort of problem is with a hatnote, and there already has a good one (which I note is largely due to you; thanks). I assume, however, that you're asking which of the two should be the primary topic, and whether this page should be renamed economic history (academic discipline) or some such. To my mind that's not really necessary, since economic history of the world is a perfectly reasonable title, and, IMO, a more accurate one at that. Since it's just one click away, I don't see a need for re-naming this article. Also, while it's not conclusive, this page has more than twice as many page views as economic history of the world, which suggests that a majority of people reading it are, in fact, looking for this topic. Anaxial (talk) 19:56, 6 November 2015 (UTC)
  • Responding to RFC - to me the title means the academic field, just as the phrases History or Military History mean the academic field. It doesn't get more specific until a title says "of" to indicate a product or particular target of use, such as 'history of europe' or 'history of as in history of the world. Markbassett (talk) 21:28, 6 November 2015 (UTC)
I agree with Darx and Anaxial. Actually, we have no clear evidence one way or the other on what readers "really" are looking for. To get that info we would need info on their search history in Wiki articles. Rjensen (talk) 21:56, 6 November 2015 (UTC)
It is likely the article was linked to without the editor double checking the contents of the page. Obviously the link needs to be fixed. Additionally it might be desirable to rename this article 'study of economic history', and have 'economic history' a disambiguate page. That way any casual link to 'economic history' would have to be fixed for ambiguity.Jonpatterns (talk) 21:01, 9 November 2015 (UTC)
  • Comment - I agree with Jonpatterns regarding the renaming and disambig page. Atsme📞📧 15:09, 15 November 2015 (UTC)

Dr. O Grada's comment on this article[edit]

Dr. O Grada has reviewed history&oldid=721494522 this Wikipedia page, and provided us with the following comments to improve its quality:

The entry has virtually nothing on past and present controversies in the field, e.g. living standards during the Industrial Revolution, why the Industrial Revolution (and modern growth) happened, the economic history of US slavery, the economic contribution of the railroads, etc.

The entry should include some historiographical references other than Boldizzoni (which is rather controversial), e.g.

William N. Parker (ed.): Economic History and the Modern Economist, Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1986.

R. W. Fogel and G. Elton, Which Road to the the Past? Two Views of History. Yale UP, 1983.

Symposium on the future of economic history in Journal of Economic History vol. 75[4] 2015, with contributions by Ran Ambramitsky, Naomi Lamoreaux, William Collins, and Kris Mitchener.

I would not include Merton Miller in the list of Nobel Prize-winning economic historians: he would not even see himself as primarily an economic historian.

We hope Wikipedians on this talk page can take advantage of these comments and improve the quality of the article accordingly.

Dr. O Grada has published scholarly research which seems to be relevant to this Wikipedia article:

  • Reference : Morgan Kelly & Cormac O Grada, 2014. "Speed under Sail, 1750-1850," Working Papers 201410, School of Economics, University College Dublin.

ExpertIdeasBot (talk) 12:39, 7 June 2016 (UTC)