Economic History is a discipline of historical research whose object is the study of the economies or economic phenomena of the past and their evolution over time . It should not be confused with the history of concepts, doctrines and economic theories , because it is to be taken in the sense of the economic history of human beings . Economic history combines both historian-specific research methods and purely economic ones , such as statistics.
The origins of Economic History :
There is a kind of economic protohistory in the 17th century. But it is only from the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century that it emerges as an academic discipline . It is first in Germany that it appears, thanks to Friedrich List , Bruno Hildebrand , Karl Knies , Wilhelm Roscher , Carl Menger , etc.
Britain, on the other hand, talks more about political economy . This discipline spread later in the United States after 1880. Its name then changes to really adopt the term « economic history » and be considered as a social science .
The first chair of economic history was created at Harvard in 1892 by William Ashley . Some historians explain that the branch of economic history proclaims the relativity of anyeconomic theory , the preponderance of historical study for economic problems as well as the use of economic laws . Indeed, we must not forget that the first historians of the economy first worked in the economic sector [necessary clarification] , or were economics professors . It is only in a second time that historians and economists separate their path .
As early as 1892, economic history set up an original methodology based on quantification . The following year, economic journals were founded in Germany, such as the Vierteljahrschrift für Sozial- und Wirtschaftsgeschichte . In France, the Journal of Economic and Social History was founded in 1913, or the Annales d’Histoire Economique et Socialein 1929. The Economic Journal in 1926 for Great Britain, the Journal of Economic and Business History in 1928 in the United States .
It is between the 1930s and 1950s, in the United States, that cliometrics develop, whose primary goal is to contribute to the progress of economic theories related to statistics and mathematics . What is also called the « new » economic history is developing well thanks to computers that make calculations much less tedious . This cliometry is rejected for a very long time by French historians.
Development according to geographical areas and methodological conflicts
First oppositions in Germany
It is in Germany that one of the first methodological conflicts arises: Gustav Schmoller , in 1883, believes that an economic theory is valid only if it is based on a historical analysis of society, he rejects the economic theories pure. This is contrary to the ideas of Carl Manger , who thinks he can know the « economic behavior » of individuals.
Evolution in Great Britain
In Great Britain, where the term « political economy » rather than « economic history » is first used, there is a separation in the late 1930s between microeconomics and macroeconomics . From the end of the Second World War, political economy abandoned the human aspect of its study to focus on the economy as such . A little later, in the 1950s, English students sought to read books in other languages in order to expand their knowledge .
Previously, in the 1920s, following the great problems of the time ( crisis of 1929 ), the discipline of economic history is upset. Indeed, there is a gradual abandonment of theories based on empirical evidence to turn to a history « in its own right », then moving away from the economy itself .
The « new » economic history or cliometry
It is after this great crisis that the new economic history, or cliometry, develops in the United States, whose (unacknowledged) purpose is to create a narrative of the past that is in keeping with the neoliberal economy . It defines itself as a science that studies the economic facts of the past through explicit models rigorously tested.
Europe remained very cold for a long time compared to cliometry. This branch can only be understood by taking into account the intellectual and cultural context of the United States at the time. Cliometry preferably uses economic deduction rather than historical induction; it also resorts to many statistics and mathematics, which it combines with some historical clues to defend economic theories. This idea comes from counterfactual history , which constructs imaginary models to explain certain facts, as in the work of Robert Fogel Railroads and American Economic Growth , 1964.
The new economic history is thus distinguished from « normal » history by the use of methods derived from quantitative history to organize the evidence, and by systematic recourse to theories allowing it to generalize models. We must understand what a model is: it is « a set of logical formalized and explicit relations between the variables ».
One of the mistakes of the « old » economic history, according to cliometry, is that it simply explains by a description: it is a descriptive story that does not use enough statistics and mathematics. In addition, historians seem to always repeat the same techniques to solve sometimes very different problems. Lastly, historians use terms that have several meanings, whereas science tends to reduce these meanings and to standardize them.
Today, some specialists are turning away from this new economic history because they do not consider it sufficiently powerful.
On the French
In France, the greatest representatives of economic history are Ernest Labrousse (1895-1988) and Fernand Braudel (1902-1985). Since the retirement of Labrousse in 1967, some historians, like Jean Bouvier , believe that the economic history knows a certain decline of regime. In fact, other branches of history compete with it, like social history , which is linked to the base of economic history before emancipating it in the 1960s. But this loss of hegemony is to be qualified: already at the time of the two great historians, only the review of the Annals is devoted largely to the economic history. Moreover, Labrousse did not make pure economic history, but a social economy , that is to say a social history of economic facts. He also tries to understand the transition between what he calls the old type economy and the contemporary economy. It should be noted that he works mainly on the modern period and a little on the contemporary period; he has not influenced all periods of history.
In addition, French economic history has to cope with the expansion of cliometry in the Anglo-Saxon world. The French turn their backs on this approach because they criticize the lack of historical criticism and the use of counterfactual analysis. According to Jean-Claude Daumas, this diversion is probably also due to the insufficiency of economic and mathematical formation among French historians.
The economic history today
Between the 1980s and 1990s, with the disappearance of certain Marxist and structuralist models, the branches of history will multiply ( political history , biography, etc.) and interact with the social sciences ; which transforms the framework of the economic history which diversifies somewhat. Examples include neo-institutional economics, the economics of conventions, and the new economic sociology. This multiplication of sub-disciplines in economic history is characteristic of the current fragmentation of different historical trends.
Currently this discipline seems more than ever divided: the cliométrie remains the reference in the Anglo-Saxon countries whereas on the European continent, the university departments devoted to the economic history close one after the others since the 1990s. This branch seems to have lost its appeal in the scientific institutions of the continent, mainly in the face of the dominance of social history and its undercurrents.
This is particularly the case of France, which, after the success of the Annales school and the leadership of Ernest Labrousse in the years 1960-1970, retreats into itself and its old ways. These could be summarized by : a gradual removal of contacts and exchanges with « pure » economists, a purely French centrism, a fixation on micro-economic phenomena and finally, a flagrant lack of publications in English.
Nevertheless, since the financial crisis of 2008 there has been a renewed interest in economic history, mainly for the history of financial systems. Moreover, the long – broken dialogue between historians and economists seems to be resuming in the face of the emergence of currents favoring interdisciplinarity such as long – term or long – term history or connected and globalized history. In fact, if the two master subjects, economy and history remain unique – together, they form the structure of the discipline. In fact, more and more leading economic historians such as Nicholas Crafts (LSE), Bob Fogel, or Douglass North (two recent Nobel economists ) are becoming advisers to economic institutions like the IMF. , the OECD or the ILO , thus proving the recognition of this discipline at the highest levels of international institutions.