The Rethinking Economics movement emerged in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis as a student pressure group to advocate for radical change in the university economics curriculum. Their concern: undergraduate economics degrees had become divorced from reality, unable to explain the actual economy.
However, for many years the Rethinking crowd did little more than complain about what was wrong; they failed to offer concrete solutions beyond demanding more pluralism, whatever that meant. New ways of teaching economics emerged, including the open-source CORE curriculum for first year introductory courses that we use here at Queen's University Belfast. But the Rethinking crowd remained largely unimpressed with the efforts of the economics profession.
I think it is not unfair to say they failed to engage with pedagogical reformers inside universities to tell us what they wanted, and instead focused on gaining the attention of people outside of academia. I fear that a lot of the discussions in the media that followed were rather one-sided and misunderstood what actually goes on in many university classrooms.
Things have changed. The Rethinking community has matured. A new book called Economy Studies has just been published which sets out a comprehensive new vision of what an economics degree should contain if it was to take the Rethinking criticism seriously. A project led by the Dutch branch of the Rethinking movement, and edited by Sam de Muijnck and Joris Tieleman, this new book sets out a concrete plan of action aimed at students, lecturers and university administrators.
This book represents an important contribution to economics pedagogy. It sets out various ways of building entire economics curricula that is centered around understanding grand societal challenges. I think the book is very conscious of the performativity literature, the idea that the theories and models we teach in the classroom can become self-fulfilling if they are treated as fact rather than used as they are intended. There are loads of good course ideas in the book, including one by recent Queen's economics graduate Andrew Graham called "the economics of oil".
I am very pleased to see that economic history is being proposed as one of the foundational building blocks of the new Economy Studies curriculum. And as in our own book, the authors argue that economic history can be inserted into programmes in various different ways. Alongside stand-alone economic history modules, the authors argue that historical approaches can be used to enrich other field courses. Everyone deserves to be exposed to economic history in some way, and all economists are capable of engaging with, and teaching, economic history!
An Economist's Guide is very kindly listed by the authors among possible teaching materials that could be used for building economic history into economics degrees, alongside some great other reading suggestions. Your university library may already have a subscription to our book through Springer Link. Why not check now?
Chris Colvin is an economic historian based at Queen’s University Belfast, UK.