Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Introduction: Economics 210a: Fall 2006-Spring 2007

Department of Economics University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720

Economics 210a
Introduction to Economic History
Fall 2006

Barry Eichengreen: Evans 603 W 1-3
Brad DeLong: Evans 601 T 12-2

Course: Economics 210a is required of Ph.D. students in Economics, and is taken in the first year of the graduate program. Graduate students in other degree programs may enroll subject to the availability of space and with the instructors' approval. The course is designed to introduce a selection of themes from the contemporary economic history literature. While themes are presented chronologically, the purpose of the course is not to present a narrative account of world economic history. Instead, emphasis is placed on the uses of economic theory and quantitative methods in history and on the insights a knowledge of history can give to the practicing economist.

It is naturally required that you do the reading and attend class. Informed participation in the latter is encouraged. Class meetings will consist of a mixture of lecture and discussion. When the course goes well, it is primarily discussion; when the course goes badly, it is primarily lecture. Because discussion will focus on the issues raised, resolved, and left unanswered by the assigned readings, readings should be completed before class.

Readings: Readings are either available on the web or on reserve at Haas. Access to readings available through Jstor and other proprietary sources may require you to log on through a university-recognized computer and/or enter your Calnet ID. Note that there can be high demand for the readings at peak times, and the library can make available only limited numbers of copies. In past years, students have found it useful to purchase some of the books from which material is assigned through their favorite online book seller and to assemble the materials for reproduction at a local copy shop. (Students should note that about half the reading materials are new; readers produced for previous versions of this course will contain only a subset of the material.)

Grades: Your grade will be an equally-weighted average of two components: your weekly memos and the Economics 210a research paper.

Weekly memos: Each week your instructors will post an Economics 210a question on their websites. You will then write a memo of two pages (double-spaced, 12-pitch) on that question, which is due at the beginning of lecture the following Wednesday. Two page memos cannot be exhaustive, nor can they provide definitive answers on the basis of what may still be unfamiliar material. But they can explain why the question is important, summarize what the articles assigned for the upcoming lecture have to say about it, and provide a provisional assessment of their conclusions.

Research paper Your research paper is due on the Friday before spring vacation. We take the word research seriously: the paper should provide new information or evidence on a topic in economic history. It should not merely summarize an existing literature in the field. The writing and submission process requires that you meet an intermediate benchmark: submit approximately ten pages' worth of a literature review and a statement of your hypotheses by the last day of the fall semester.

Aim for roughly 20 pages for the final paper.

This paper should go beyond summarizing or synthesizing a literature: students should use the tools of economic theory and empirical analysis to pose and answer an historical question. Warning: the paper must have historical substance. This is not a requirement in applied economics or econometrics that can be satisfied by relabeling the variables in theoretical models taught elsewhere or by mechanically applying modern statistical techniques to old data.

Topic: The paper may cover almost any topic in economic history. You are certainly not limited to the material covered in 210a. You may, for example, work on time periods or countries of particular interest to you. The only requirement is that the topic must genuinely involve the past. Comparisons of past and current events are certainly fine, but studies of developments solely after 1973 are not.

Evidence: As the readings on the syllabus make clear, historical evidence comes in a wide range of form and styles. It is often empirical, but not always. Sometimes the key evidence is just a list of goods traded or what policymakers said they were trying to accomplish. With empirical evidence, tables and graphs of important variables are often enough to make a compelling argument.

Length: Good papers do come in a wide variety of sizes. However, for this assignment aim at a length of ten pages or so for the literature review, and more for the final paper. A final paper less than 15 pages tends to make your instructors suspicious, while a final paper more than 25 pages (unless it is very good indeed) tends to make your instructors cranky.

Successful Paper Topics from Previous Years Coming up with a promising paper topic is arguably the most useful part of this exercise. Your entire graduate career (indeed, for most of you, your entire career) will center around identifying interesting questions to be answered. For this reason we will not give you a list of topics (though we often toss them out in the course of class discussion). Instead, we will describe the type of topics that have been successful in the past and suggest ways of finding similarly successful topics.

  • A comment on an interesting paper: Perhaps the easiest type of paper to write is a comment on an existing paper. Such comments often turn out to be more important than the original work. Think about flaws in some paper that you read. Is there selection bias? Has the author left out a potentially crucial variable? One year a student noticed a footnote in a paper by on the reading list that said one observation had been left out of the figure because it was so large relative to the others. This same extreme observation was included in the empirical analysis. The student got the data and showed that his results depended crucially on this one observation.
  • A comparison of past events with present events: Few economic events have no historical antecedents. If there is a modern development you are interested in, you could look for its historical roots or counterparts. For example, so much has been written about the rise of the Internet and the revolution in communication in the 1990s. How do these developments compare to the rise of the telegraph and the telephone? The rise of TV and radio? Did investment and financial markets response in similar ways?
  • Analysis of an interesting source: While it is not a good idea to let data availability drive your topic, it is perfectly reasonable to let serendipity play a role. Have you come across an unusual source in the library or during your undergraduate years? Is there an interesting question that this source could be used to answer? One year a student came across the catalogs for the 1851 World's Fair. She had the idea that these descriptions of what each country exhibited could be used as a measure of innovation. She wrote a paper looking at the industrial composition of innovation across countries. Another student was looking through newspapers from San Francisco in the 1870s. He found many classified ads that read something like: "Wanted - man to work in store and loan store $1000." This student wondered why companies would tie employment and loans. He wrote a paper investigating whether ads such as these were a sign of credit market imperfections or a way of ensuring worker loyalty and honesty. (Both of these papers have since been published in high-profile outlets.)
  • A new test of an old debate: Take some interesting debate in economic history and come up with a clever, alternative way of testing it. Usually, such a test involves using a new type of data. For example, if everyone has been using quantities, think about a way to use prices. An example of this type of paper involves the debate over how business cycles have changed over time. One researcher suggested that instead of fighting over very imperfect estimates of real GDP, one could look at stock prices as an indicator of the volatility of the macroeconomy.
  • A natural experiment: Just as one should be on the lookout for interesting sources, one should also be thinking about interesting events. History is full of natural experiments--some weird tax is passed, a war is fought, a new regulation is imposed. Often such experiments can be used to answer crucial questions in economics--for example, what the changing speed with which liberty ships were built during World War II tells us about the size of learning-by-doing effects.


Oct. 11. Organizational Meeting (Short) [DeLong]

Oct. 18. The Malthusian Economy [DeLong]

Oct. 25. Trade and the Industrious Revolution [DeLong]

Nov. 1. Agriculture and Forced Labor in Early Modern Growth [DeLong]

Nov. 8. The Industrial Revolution in Britain [Eichengreen]

  • Joel Mokyr, "Technological Change, 1700-1830," in Roderick Floud and Donald McCloskey eds., The Economic History of Britain Since 1700, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, second edition, 1994, pp.12-43. On reserve at Haas.
  • N.F.R. Crafts, British Economic Growth During the Industrial Revolution, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986, pp.9-114 (read selectively). On reserve at Haas.
  • Maxine Berg and Pat Hudson, "Rehabilitating the Industrial Revolution," Economic History Review new ser. 45, pp.23-50. Available online:
  • Peter Temin, "Two Views of the British Industrial Revolution," Journal of Economic History 57, pp.63-82.
  • Jeffrey Williamson, "Why Was British Economic Growth So Slow During the Industrial Revolution?" Journal of Economic History 44, pp.687-712

Nov. 15. The Spread of Industrialization [DeLong]

Nov 29. American Exceptionalism [Eichengreen]

  • Paul David (1966), "The Mechanization of Reaping in the Ante-Bellum Midwest," in Henry Rosovsky (ed.), Industrialization in Two Systems, New York: Wiley, pp. 3-28, on reserve at Haas.
  • Peter Temin (1966), "Labor Scarcity and the Problem of American Industrial Efficiency in the 1850s," Journal of Economic History 26, pp. 277-298
  • Kenneth Sokoloff (1984), "Was the Transition from the Artisanal Shop to the Non-Mechanized Factory Associated with Gains in Efficiency?" Explorations in Economic History 21, pp.351-382.
  • Robert Fogel (1962), "A Quantitative Approach to the Study of Railroads in American Economic Growth," Journal of Economic History 22, pp. 163-197,
  • Alfred Chandler (1990), Scale and Scope, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, chapter 3, pp. 51-89, on reserve at Haas.

Dec 6. 19th Century Capital Markets [Eichengreen]

  • Alexander Gerschenkron (1964), Economic Backwardness in Historical Perspective, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, chapter 1, pp. 5-30, on reserve at Haas.
  • Naomi Lamoreaux (1986), "Banks, Kinship, and Economic Development: The New England Case," Journal of Economic History 46, pp.647-667,
  • Hugh Rockoff (1974), "The Free Banking Era: A Reexamination," Journal of Money, Credit and Banking 6, pp. 141-167,
  • Lance Davis (1965), "The Investment Market, 1870-1914: The Evolution of a National Market," Journal of Economic History 25, pp. 355-393,
  • Howard Bodenhorn and Hugh Rockoff (1992), "Regional Interest Rates in Antebellum America," chapter 5 in Claudia Goldin and Hugh Rockoff (eds), Strategic Factors in 19th Century American Economic History, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 159-187, on reserve at Haas.

Jan 17. 19th Century Labor Markets [Eichengreen]

  • Sanford Jacoby (1984), "The Development of Internal Labor Markets in American Manufacturing Firms," in Paul Osterman (ed.), Internal Labor Markets, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, pp. 23-69, on reserve at Haas.
  • Susan Carter and Elizabeth Savoca (1988), "Labor Mobility and Lengthy Jobs in 19th Century America," Journal of Economic History 50, pp. 1-16, < >
  • John James (1990), "Job Tenure in the Gilded Age," in George Grantham and Mary McKinnon, eds., Labour Market Evolution, London: Routledge, pp.185-204, on reserve at Haas.
  • Joshua Rosenbloom (1990), "One Market or Many? Labor Market Integration in the Late Nineteenth Century United States," Journal of Economic History 50, pp. 85-107,
  • Joshua Rosenbloom (2002), "Employment Agencies and Labor Exchanges: The Impact of Intermediaries in the Market for Labor," in Looking for Work, Searching for Workers: American Labor Markets during Industrialization (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press), chapter 3, pp. 46-79, on reserve at Haas.

Jan. 24. The First Age of Globalization [Eichengreen]

  • Albert Fishlow (1985), (Lessons from the Past: Capital Markets During the 19th Century and the Interwar Period,( International Organization 39, pp. 383-439,
  • Douglas Irwin (1998), "Did Late Nineteen Century U.S. Tariffs Promote Infant Industries? Evidence from the Tinplate Industry," NBER Working paper no. 6835 (December),
  • Arthur Bloomfield (1959), Monetary Policy Under the International Gold Standard, New York: Federal Reserve Bank of New York, on reserve at Haas.
  • Hugh Rockoff (1983), "Some Evidence on the Real Price of Gold, Its Costs of Production, and Commodity Prices," in Michael Bordo and Anna Schwartz (eds), A Retrospective on the Classical Gold Standard, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 613-651, on reserve at Haas.

Jan. 31. The U.S. Depression [DeLong and Eichengreen]

Feb. 7. The World Depression [Eichengreen]

  • Barry Eichengreen (1992), Golden Fetters: The Gold Standard and the Great Depression 1919-1939 (New York: Oxford University Press), chapter 1, pp. 3-28, on reserve at Haas.
  • Ben Bernanke and Harold James, "The Gold Standard, Deflation and Financial Crisis in the Great Depression: An International Comparison," in Glenn Hubbard (ed), Financial Markets and Financial Crises, University of Chicago Press (1991), pp.33-68. On reserve at Haas.
  • Margaret Weir and Theda Skocpol, "State Structures and Social Keynesianism: Responses to the Great Depression in Sweden and the United States," International Journal of Comparative Sociology 19, pp.4-29. [web link here]

Feb. 14. The Post-World War II Golden Age [Eichengreen]

  • Peter Temin (2002), "The Golden Age of European Growth Reconsidered," European Review of Economic History 6, pp. 33-22.
  • Mancur Olson (1996), "The Varieties of Eurosclerosis: The Rise and Decline of Nations Since 1982," in Nicholas Crafts and Gianni Toniolo (eds), Economic Growth in Europe Since 1945, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pp.73-94.
  • Barry Eichengreen, "Institutions and Economic Growth: Europe Since 1945," in Nicholas Crafts and Gianni Toniolo (eds), Economic Growth in Europe Since 1945, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pp.38-72.

Feb. 21. Combined and Uneven Development [DeLong]

Feb. 28. The Crisis of the Mixed Economy [DeLong]


Was it in fact the case-as UCLA's Jared Diamond maintains-that the invention of agriculture was the worst mistake in the history of the human race? Which side of this question do you come down on-yes or no-and why? Or, if you want to suspend judgment, what additional facts about the past and present would you need to know before you would come down on one side or the other?


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home