Visualization @ ESHET 2010 (March 25-28, 2010)

Hans Hoffman, The Gate, 1959-60

I am interrupting the sleep mode of the playground to publish a selfish and self-centered call for papers. For the 14th conference of the European Society for the History of Economic Thought in Amsterdam, I am submitting a session on the use of visual representation in economics, with the following blurb:

The last two decades have witnessed a growing literature on visualization in the history of science following the publication of Lynch and Woolgar’s Representation in Scientific Practice (1990) – see for instance a recent focus section in Isis (March 2006). Despite previous attempts to draw the attention of historians of economics and insightful published papers on the subject – e.g. a ECHE conference in 2002 and a related mini-symposium in JHET in 2003), the use of visual representation in economics remains largely misunderstood. Graphical methods, for instance, are still regarded as a mere subdivision of mathematical analysis, whereas Klein (1995), Cook (2005) and Giraud (2007) have demonstrated that they have been considered distinct from mathematics since the early days of neoclassical economics. More generally, though anyone would concede that graphs, charts, tables, pictures and illustrations are part of the economist’s workaday tools, few efforts have been engaged to understand precisely how they operate within the larger models and theoretical frameworks in which they are used. Failure to recognize the role of visualization in economics is related to the fact that historians of the field tend to focus on the development of theory rather than on the practices in which theorization is entrenched, favoring a foundational approach which undermines cultural specificities. The most recent contributions to the history of science, indeed, have pointed out that the role of visualization in science is best understood within the framework of visual culture – see for instance Luc Pauwels (ed.), Visual Cultures of Science (2006).In this session, we would like to follow this literature by bringing together a set of papers which explore the use of visual representation in connection with peculiar cultures, whether disciplinary or operating at a larger level – the birth of mass-media in the US, for instance. Contributions will focus on the invention of visual devices in relation with specific practices, on the interaction between economists and artists or on how certain visual methods are affected when audiences are different from those they were originally intended for. They need not be focused on theoretical economics but also on the use of visual representation by economic propagandists, state administrations or practitioners operating on markets

I already have two papers for the session, including one by Loic and myself on the visual display of economic information in the US during the interwar period (we draw on the FSA pictorial project and on Otto Neurath‘s Isotype method). I would be happy to include one or two other papers. These may not be strictly papers on the history of economics but also papers on the history of management or general history articles which cover economic themes (for instance, economic history, history of measurement and the larger history of social sciences). Beyond the ESHET conference, this session may help launch the discussion on this neglected aspect of scientific practice and to help increase multidisciplinary work on the subject in the near future. If you have an abstract to submit, you can do this directly to me (yann.giraud[at], replace [at] with @), I will re-submit the session as a whole before the papers are individually submitted through the ESHET website. You can also contact me if you have already submitted a paper which you think may fit this session in particular.


One thought on “Visualization @ ESHET 2010 (March 25-28, 2010)

  1. This is the abstract I already submitted to the next ESHET conference. As it deals with a documentary, I wonder whether it could be of interest for your session on the use of visual representation.

    Oral history: A Documentary on Antonio de Viti de Marco

    The economist Antonio de Viti de Marco (1858-1943) is mainly known on an international level for his contribution to the foundation of a pure theory of public finance. Nothing is known about his political thought, while his private life cannot even be imagined by non Italians: the scarcity of existing information would not tell them anything about places, or periods, or atmosphere. On a national level, De Viti de Marco is well-known for his economic thought and for his political battles; however, apart from a few recollections, his private life is unknown even in Italy. The local memory of this illustrious son of Salento (Puglia) focuses mainly on the activities of his family; there is some awareness of his political involvement; his scientific works are inaccessible to the non-specialist, while there is no clear idea of what great effect his achievements had on the international scene.
    The memory of De Viti de Marco is therefore quite well preserved taken as a whole; but it is clearly a different one in each geographical area. This has a striking implication: if each of them is unaware of the content of the others’ memory, it means that the different worlds did not speak to each other. How then could De Viti de Marco’s personal and local history be made known outside the Salento, and at the same time his scientific achievements be explained to his local countrymen? How could they be made aware of the respect he enjoys abroad and the world be informed of his political activities and the range of his ideas?
    To reach all these non-communicating worlds, we made a documentary and a book. The documentary contains selected parts of eleven interviews, and the book contains the almost entire transcription of them. We captured the memories of Emilia Chirilli, the last first-hand witness, who speaks about De Viti’s private life; his public commitment, his scientific side (also on banking and international trade, not only on public finance) are described by Antonio Cardini, Pierluigi Ciocca, Domenico da Empoli, Riccardo Faucci, Ferruccio Marzano, Ruggero Paladini, while Pier Francesco Asso, Steven Medema, Richard Wagner and James Buchanan highlight De Viti’s fame in the Anglo-Saxon world.
    This paper is about the making of this documentary, a piece of oral history intended as to enrich the knowledge deriving from written sources.

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