This semester, I am lucky enough to be among the 40 fellows in residence at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities and Social Sciences in Amsterdam. This interdisciplinary institute, moulded after the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, hosts scholars conducting research from across the humanities and social sciences, from art history to epidemiology. We even have a poet!
I am working on the Dutch experience of the interwar gold standard. This is a co-authored project with Philip Fliers. We will be presenting a work-in-progress version of our paper at the Economic History Society Annual Conference in Belfast, in April.
As part of this project, I am about to start reading various biographies of Hendrikus Colijn, the prime minister in charge when the Dutch economy started going south in the 1930s. Colijn was a steadfast believer in gold, despite all the evidence that maintaining the link between the guilder and this precious metal was a really bad idea. How did he justify his policy beliefs?
An Economist's Guide to Economic History is all about learning from the past. Today we don't use gold standards. And most countries have abandoned fixed exchange rates. Yet I believe there remains lots to be learnt from the Netherlands in the 1930s.
As my NIAS colleague Bas Jacobs explains in his current research, Europe's recovery from the 2008 crisis was worse than its recovery in the 1930s. This is also the case for the Netherlands, which did particularly badly in the 1930s. Just as Colijn was enthralled in the dogma of gold, politicians and central bankers today also appear to also captured by long-debunked economic theories.
Video is probably the most important media format on the internet today. We are all constantly watching them. Often we watch them without the sound, relying just on the subtitles. And usually they are very short pieces of communication of less than 2:20 minutes (the maximum allowed by Twitter!).
I think that academics don't engage enough video. This is a missed opportunity, because video allows us to reach new audiences beyond our lecture theatres and seminar rooms.
A video have the potential to act as an "access drug", enticing viewers to download and read our books and articles, the pieces of academic communication we are more used to producing.
The barrier for most academics in producing video communications, however, is expertise. While it is easy enough to make a video, it is not at all easy to make a good video. Academics need help!
We have been very keen to make some video material to introduce the arguments of our book to potential readers. And with the generous financial support of Queen's Management School, we were able to commission Econ Films to do just that! We think it has turned out rather well.
We announced the publication of the book in two important newsletters earlier this month.
The first is the Economics Network's Newsletter. The Economics Network is the UK-based subject network for teaching and learning in economics. Supported, among others, by the Royal Economics Society, it aims to "enhance the quality of learning and teaching throughout the Higher Education economics community". The network curates an excellent website of teaching resources, and organises very useful training events for new university lecturers. I hope we can work with the Economics Network in future when thinking about designing new material that will help lecturers to implement our book's vision of greater engagement between economists and economic historians.
The second is the Max Weber Programme Newsletter. The Max Weber Programme is the interdisciplinary postdoctoral programme of the European University Institute. Every year, the programme hosts about 60 fellows from across the social sciences, and from around the world. All are at the very start of their academic careers. Fellows are usually very eager to learn about new ideas for research and gain valuable advice to improve their teaching. I am an alumni of the programme and look back on my time in Florence very fondly. I think that many of the alumni of the Max Weber Programme will share our book's aim of Making Economics Great Again (MEGA).
You can read the Economics Network's Newsletter here, and the Max Weber Programme Newsletter here.
An Economist’s Guide to Economic History was officially launched at Riddel Hall, Queen's University Belfast, on Friday 18 January 2019.
The launch coincided with a roundtable discussion on the past, present and future of economics as a discipline, with a particular focus on how it is taught at university and understood by the general public.
The roundtable was introduced by Dr Chris Colvin (Queen's University Belfast) and moderated by Dr Matthias Blum (Queen's Univresity Belfast), the book's editors. The second half of the workshop was moderated by Romesh Vaitilingam CBE (Communicating Economics)
The discussion on the day centered around answering five questions:
The workshop, which was attended by academic and professional economists and the general public, was filmed by Econ Films. A video of the event will be posted here soon.
A short press release for the book launch event (in MS Word format) can be downloaded here.
Textbooks are extremely expensive. As former students ourselves, we are conscious of the fact that this expense may prevent, or at the very least restrict, access to necessary teaching materials.
For this reason, we have made sure An Economist’s Guide to Economic History went "straight to paperback" and is therefore affordably priced. We hope that this enables students to purchase their own personal copies.
The paperback version of the book is now available for purchase directly from the publisher, through major online retailers, and from all good bookshops. We will also be selling copies at the book launch event in Belfast on 18 January (at the discounted price of £20).
It has taken a little longer to arrive than planned, but An Economist's Guide to Economic History is now be available as an ebook, priced at just £22. That is 50 chapters, 500 pages, or 4.4 pence per page; a very good deal!
If you have ordered the physical paperback edition, it should arrive in a couple of weeks - hopefully just in time for Christmas/New Year.
If your university's library has access to SpringerLink, why not try-before-you-buy? Following this link:
The book is now inching towards the finish line. The manuscript has been fully proofed, typeset and proofed again. We have made sure there are no weird formatting errors, that no references are missing in bibliographies and that authors' affiliations are up-to-date. This process has taken several weeks, but we are there now!
The book will be available later this month as an e-book. But it will take the publisher a little more time to print the physical copies; expect delivery of your pre-ordered paperback copy in December. The current price on Amazon (24.63 GBP) is slightly lower than the price offered by Palgrave Macmillan (27.99 GBP), but these prices seem to fluctuate a bit. The e-book version is cheaper still (21.99 GBP). Contributing authors will be able to purchase multiple copies through the publisher at a significant discount, for use in the classroom.
Launch Workshop News
In addition to Wendy Carlin and Nick Crafts, we are very excited to announce that Paul Winfree will be joining our panel of experts here in Belfast on 18 January to discuss the future of the relationship between economics and economic history.
Paul complements the other panellists by providing us with a policymaker's perspective. He currently works at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative public policy think tank based in Washington DC, where he directs the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies. He held various senior posts in the first year of the Trump administration, among them he served as Deputy Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy, a role which led him to help author Trump's first two budgets. His research is mostly in the fields of health economics and public finance, and he has also developed an interest in the history of economic thought.
Paul has a background in economic history; we were both graduate students together at the London School of Economics. He is currently researching the history of government budget-making in the US. I hope Paul will able to tell us how he thinks that economic history can be used practically to improve economic policymaking process today.
Here is a video of Paul interviewing economic historian Dierdre McCloskey in 2016. The topic of the interview is "How the World Grew Rich". Deirdre's answer, in a single word: freedom. You can read more about Deirdre's work on her website, and, of course, in various chapters of An Economist's Guide to Economic History!
We currently organising a launch workshop for An Economist's Guide at Riddel Hall, Queen's University Belfast, on 18 January 2019.
In addition to the editors and some of the book's many contributors, confirmed participants on the 18th include Wendy Carlin (Professor of Economics, University College London) and Nick Crafts (Professor of Economic History, University of Warwick).
Wendy is one of the driving forces behind the CORE project, which aims to revolutionise the way we teach first-year economics by "inverting" the curriculum and starting with topics usually left to the end (like game theory and information economics). The CORE syllabus is very interesting in that it tends to lead with empirical problems before moving to theoretical explanations, and so includes a lot of economic history.
Meanwhile, Nick is probably the most influential economic historian working in the UK today. He was appointed CBE in 2014 for services to economics and has become a regular commentator on the economics of Brexit. He has an excellent new book out which looks at the rise, fall, rise and fall again of the UK economy from the Industrial Revolution to the present day.
Our launch event will be covered by Econ Films, an award-winning production company specialised in making films about economics.
Please get in touch with me if you wish to attend our workshop.
In terms of an update on the book's progress through the presses, we are still on course for a November 2018 publication.
I am writing this short update from Montréal, host city for the 2018 Meetings of the Economic History Association. I had a little wonder around the McGill campus this morning, and am about to visit the Museum of Fine Arts. I am very much looking forward to the conference, which starts tomorrow.
From the conference programme, I can see quite a few contributors to An Economist's Guide will be here: Guido Alfani, Vellore Arthi, Jari Eloranta, Price Fishback, Rowena Gray, Noel Johnson, Mark Koyama, Alexander Moradi, Larry Neal, Cormac Ó Gráda, Richard Steckel, and, of course, yours truly! That's 12 out of 51 of the book's authors in one place. Note bad!
On Sunday, I will be presenting a paper I wrote with Matthias and Eoin on the Great Irish Famine. We used our prison dataset to do some anthropometrics, the study of human height - a surprisingly good indicator of health when you haven't got other statistics to hand. We find evidence that those who survived the Famine and reached adulthood are highly selected bunch who did not themselves suffer famine malnutrition and disease. We think this is an important result for a number of reasons, not least because related studies do a bad job of considering selection effects. You can read the full paper here.
Meanwhile, Matthias and I have been putting in the finishing touches to the book proofs. All the missing references are now sorted, and Adi's new visually-appealing graphics uploaded. We will see another version in a couple of weeks to make any last-minute changes, and then it is off to the printers!
We have just received the fully typeset and copy-edited version of the book back from the publishers. It is looking good! Some small problems to solve, including loads of missing references and a few eclectic spelling varieties that have somehow escaped the attention of the proofreaders. (I fear that I will never fully understand our American cousins' penchant for the letter z - that's "zee", not "zed".)
One disappointment, however, has been the quality of the typeset figures. They all look like they were pasted straight from Excel. Because, well, they were! I had hoped for a little more...
So my friend Adi McCrea has agreed to help us out at very short notice. Adi is a data scientist and Tableau whiz. She has already sent me some prototypes. These new-and-improved figures will look great!
(For a discussion of why good data visualisation should be considered much more important to economists than it usually is, see this interview with Jonathan Schwabish, who wrote a great visualisation guide for the JEP back in 2014.)
Other stuff we are adding to the book at this stage include a series of cartoons by Ashleigh Neill, and a set of haiku by Stephen Ziliak. Both these projects were inspired by the contents of the book. Along with Adi's data visualisation magic, we hope that you will agree that the inclusion of this material will elevate the finished product to a piece of high art!