On the Status and the Future of Economic History in the World

by Joerg Baten (joerg.baten@uni-tuebingen.de) and Julia Muschallik (julia.muschallik@uni-tuebingen.de)

URL: http://d.repec.org/n?u=RePEc:pra:mprapa:34704&r=his

How many economic historians are there in the world? In which countries or world regions are they concentrated? Can we explain differences in the number of economic historians who are participating in world congresses, and which determinants encourage or limit participation propensity? Using an e-mail questionnaire, we analyse the global situation of this discipline. Overall 59 countries were available to be surveyed in this overview. We estimate the overall number of economic historians in the world to be around 10,400 scholars.

Joerg Baten and Julia Muschallik offer a worthwhile account of the state of economic history as a discipline today. Their effort to establish its distribution around the wold as well as estimating the number of participants in the field is significant and convincing. A number of interesting challenges had to be sorted to arrive at this estimates and cross checking by aggregating through annual conferences and journal publications reinforces the message. But perhaps these estimates could have been more convincing if they had considered the distribution and authorship of working papers distributed by nep-his or SSRN.

This paper opens a number of interesting debates. First, it has made clear we know little as to the actual emergence and evolution of the discipline around the world. There is thus an opportunity to report how and why economic historians became self aware, establish themselves as an area of knowledge and its teaching and research was adopted in different counties. A history of the discipline and its participants if you like.

Secondly, there is an issue about how they dealt with different “tribes”. Establishing the limits of your search always has to deal with “gray areas”. Baten and Muschallik argue that it is in countries with high degree of specialisation such as the US and the UK where business and economic historians can be identified as separate groups. But precisely because economic history combines methods and rhetorical styles of other disciplines, there could have been a bit more sensitivity in the questionnaire to those which feed from economic history and vice versa, namely to allow respondents to identify if they felt to the part of (or actually being active in) business history, marketing history, accounting history and increasingly some within critical management studies. Of course, if according to Baten and Muschallik economic historians are indeed something of a “luxury product”, then what are these other people/areas?

Thirdly, I found the link between the number of academics in a country and its GDP particularly interesting. Coming back to my theme above of a history of the discipline, this opens up questions such as why has specialisation taken place? Why and when did this happen? Is there collaboration or antagonism between these groups? But as mentioned, the line has to be drawn somewhere and answering these sort of questions was not their intent.

Finally, to items for further reflection: a) it will be interesting to see the extent to which, ceteris paribus, their predictions on participants to the World Congress in South Africa are on the mark. b) I was quite happy to see their estimates of total economic historians around the world at 10.5k people, specially as of today nep-his has about 6.5k unique subscribers.

PS Have a look at:

New Bloomberg Economic & Business History Blog, “Echoes”.

2 thoughts on “On the Status and the Future of Economic History in the World

  1. Johan Fourie (@Four31)

    I also found the paper very interesting, although I agree that some of the estimates for number of economic historians active in countries seem rather ballpark. Perhaps I could provide some update about the numbers of conference participants in Stellenbosch: 133 session proposals were accepted, the largest for any such conference. That is probably a good indication that Joerg’s prediction about the 2012 Congress is close to accurate. (The sessions will be loaded on the website (www.wehc2012.org) shortly for those who would like to submit a paper.)

  2. Stephanie Decker

    I have to admit I am a little puzzled by the title. It seems a census of historians, and as the general comment indicates, it does not clarify definitional issues. Nor does a census necessarily give an indication of the status and the future of an academic discipline, it is a description of the population. As important and as interesting as this is, the historiographical title seems misleading in this context.


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