Restless Clio: A Story of the Economic Historians' Assessment of History in Economics

Chris Freeman and Francisco Louçã

in As Time Goes By

Published in print March 2002 | ISBN: 9780199251056
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191596278 | DOI:
 Restless Clio: A Story of the Economic Historians' Assessment of History in Economics

Show Summary Details


Economic history has always been quite a peculiar department both in the domain of history and that of economics; dealing with change, institutions, collective rationality, and conflicting strategies of economic agents, privileging descriptive and non‐formal analytical tools, economic history remained for long outside the scope of formal neoclassical economics.

This chapter describes and discusses the story of the incorporation of economic history into the mainstream of economic theory through the cliometric revolution, a powerful intellectual movement emerging by the late fifties, which encapsulated this reconstruction of economic history from the point of view of marginalist price theory and the postulates of individual rationality; Meyer and Conrad were the major drivers of this radical vision, and challenged the ‘old historians’ school’, today best represented by the response of David Landes.

Yet the coherence of the cliometric movement was soon jeopardized by internal contradictions: Paul David issued the most powerful challenge to the seminal building block of the new approach, Fogel's ‘Time on the Cross’, a revision of the traditional approach to the economics of slavery in the pre‐Civil War USA.

Douglass North is another example of a dissident from cliometrics, and Alfred Chandler provided alternative arguments for a reasoned history approach to societal change.

The cliometric analysis of the British Industrial Revolution, using counterfactuals, namely by Crafts and Hawke, is discussed and contradicted in the chapter.

Keywords: chance; cliometrics; counterfactual; Paul David; economic history; economic theory; Fogel; Industrial Revolution; David Landes; Robert

Chapter.  16412 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Economic History

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.