Most of our works as historians of economics took for granted that there is a clear line between material elligible as economic ideas and theories and what is not, what is a fact of the history of economics and what is not. As a consequence, our community have considered exclusively or almost exclusively facts that belongued to the culture of writing (and even more narrowly to the scholarly writings): texts, correspondence, etc. As a consequence, we know very little about the impact that other means of communication like cinema, TV, pictures to take a few examples might have on the economic conceptions of people (including economists, including us!). Another way to put it is: could we interpret movies, pictures, work of arts, etc., as (at least some of the time) carrying economic knowledge, concepts, even theories?
The immediate cause of this post was this picture taken from a book I recently bought (and read).
This famous photography was taken by Dorothea Lange as part of the Farm Security Administration 1930s project of providing a pictorial history of the United States in the economic depression. The original caption of his picture was the simple and descriptive: “Plantation Overseer and his fields hands, near Clarksdale Mississipi 1936”.
However, in the book I have, the co-authors (including Roy Striker who headed the project back in the 1930s and was trained as an economist) introduced the picture with a text in bold and big characters placed on the top left of the page (the picture is in the middle and caption is placed underneath in small characters) which reads:
There are pictures that say labor
and pictures that say capital
and pictures that say Depression.
My questions are: Do you think that there are pictures that say such things? Moreover, can we think of this particular picture as saying capital? And finally, can we see economics?
PS: I say that because most of the readings of this picture are linked to race inequality rather than social/economic inequality (see for example: http://caraf.blogs.com/caraf/2006/11/sfdhghgfdhgfhd.html)
By the way, the book title is: In This Proud Land, it was first published in 1973, I warmly recommend it to everyone.