At UCL, a project is run to transcribe the lots of J. Bentham’s unedited papers.
The originality is that they will use “crowd sourcing” for this task: a collaborative project to digitize his papers, with the help of volunteers drawn from the web. Gratuitous, hype project? Not quite, since these are 40,000 papers of Bentham that have never been transcribed or studied, and a massive distributed effort seems a clever use of the technology to speed up the completion of the transcription.
Jump at 5’15 for the description of the crowd-sourcing project.
What do the Bentham’s specialists think about this initiative? Do they expect it to change the scholarship on Bentham in any significant manner?
At about the same time economists were publishing their AER’s hall of fame, the team that brought the Google n-gram viewer published their own version of a hit-parade: an all-time, all-discipline scientists’ ranking. Success is counted in milli-Darwins (mD), and measures the frequency of citation in a corpus representing 4% of all the books ever printed:
John von Neumann (137mD), and Harold Hotelling (27mD), if you want. But that’s cheating. As far as I could see, the only economist by training cited in the first 200 is Herman Daly (48mD). Certainly a surprise to me (not a bad one), and a motive for thought about the cultural imprint of economics!
(btw: is it a coincidence that Hotelling, like Herman Daly, is also a contributor to the study of the finiteness of natural resources?)
I had a twitter account for long. After faint hearted attempts at tweeting (“Going for lunch”, “Really appreciated my week-end in Paris”), I just gave up. What is this service for?
Developing an interest in digital humanities changed my opinion. It is not quite a field yet: I am not aware of established journals devoted to digital humanities, or of international societies with annual meetings. But it is certainly a community of interest. The trouble for this community is that they come from widely different backgrounds: history, demography, philology, but also machine learning and software developing, to mention just a few. How do they get to know and learn from each other?
Twitter happens to be a very convenient space for this purpose. It is commonly used by computing scientists, who tweet furiously about their ideas, results, and the events they organize. And some social scientists started participating in the discussion. They are very few for now, but the principle of twitter is that each “tweet” can quote links and keywords which can then be followed (and re-tweeted, etc.) So that their voices are amplified, and at the end one gets quite a broad view of social sciences in the digital humanities.
For instance, what triggered the writing of this post was reading a fascinating blog post by a Princeton scholar on the design of databases for historians, which I discovered by following a link on twitter (http://sappingattention.blogspot.com/2011/03/what-historians-dont-know-about.html). The point I want to make is that, instead of following the work of this Princeton guy in particular (even if in this case that might be a good idea!), it might be actually a better idea to use twitter and take advantage of its “echo chamber” effect, which will bring you a view on his work when he gets referred in links, and a much vaster view of the digital humanities in general by simply tracking a few keywords and individuals.
If you are tempted, here are a few of my favorites to follow on twitter:
#nltk (for textual analysis)
#sna (for social network analysis)
@jonathantray (a professional journalist and a computer scientist, works now for AP, the news agency)
@wmijnhardt (an exec at my univ, tweets a lot about science management)
He does not tweet, but gets cited a lot in the chatter: Elijah Meeks from Stanford – another fine scholar in the digital humanities.
Is “e-history” just relevant for very recent times, and leading “naturally” to a narrow interest in quantities and prices? Not so!
(OK, this is a very unfair reading of Loic’s comments on my last post. Still, the video is interesting and illustrates how “e-history” is not just about crunching numbers, as the repetitive comparisons with cliometrics would suggest).
I thought that answering Ben’s excellent and stimulating question (in the previous post just above this one) could justify the opening of a new post.
His question was, are there any new BIG questions for history? I’d say that there is at least one great challenge for history: the entry into “e-history”. By that, I mean the renewing of methods and research questions in history, implied by the recent digital data floods: internet, digital personal documents, online journals, transactional data (e.g., mobile communications, data on financial transfers, etc.).
Wait, is it really a BIG question, or simply a new set of tools?
Well, let’s consider what happened to sociologists, when the realization came that digital data could be of importance to their field. The following quote will make this post awfully long, but it gives such a dramatic view on the issue that I can’t resist:
Our sense of this impending crisis has crept up upon us as we have gone about our work in recent years. For Savage, an early sign was in 2004 when he attended the ESRC Research Methods festival. With colleagues Gindo Tampubolon and Alan Warde he was enrolled in a session designed to popularize social network methods. He talked about an ESRC-funded research project which mapped the personal connections and ties of members of three voluntary organizations using social network analysis. The project had proved time consuming and intensive.
A lot of time had been spent finding three organizations prepared to participate, a postal questionnaire had been sent to 320 members in total, with a very high response rate. Many members had been interviewed face-to-face to ask detailed questions about their social networks. Thirty life histories had been conducted. The resulting intensive study of the members’ social ties was amongst the most detailed ever carried out in the UK (see Ray et al., 2003; Warde et al., 2005). During the Festival Savage talked to other participants interested in social network methods. It turned out that one enthusiast was not an academic but worked in a research unit attached to a leading telecommunications company. When asked what data he used for his social network studies, he shyly replied that he had the entire records of every phone call made on his system over several years, amounting to several billion ties. This is data which dwarves anything that an academic social scientist could garner. Crucially, it was data that did not require a special effort to collect, but was the digital by-product of the routine operations of a large capitalist institution. It is also private data to which most academics have no access. To be sure, we can cavil about its limits. It does not tell us what the callers actually talked about. We can emphasize our superior reflexivity, theoretical sophistication, or critical edge. Fair enough – up to a point. Yet the danger is that this response involves taking refuge in the reassurance of our own internal world, our own assumed abilities to be more ‘sophisticated’, and thereby we chose to ignore the huge swathes of ‘social data’ that now proliferate.
Now, transactional data might not be of prime importance for historians of economic thought. But other forms of digital data definitely are. Many living economists will donate their archives not in the form of 200+ linear feet of boxes, but simply in the form of a one kilo external hard drive containing a few terabytes of data.
The method that we know and practice – go slowly and methodically through each file of a box in the archives – might still work (simply demanding even more patience, I suppose), but the volume of data will invite to different forms of historical analysis as well.
Indeed, these archives, we might expect, will make new kinds of material accessible: more complete series of drafts leading to the published version of a given work, with preserved annotations from all co-authors in the case they used the capabilities now afforded by most text editors. The underlying data in case of an empirical work, full correspondence with co-authors, detailed chronology / calendar of the work on a publication, all will become potentially available to the historian. But also drafts of grant applications, full bibliographies chronologically indexed by date of their entry in the database (now a common practice, which will be so useful for historians!), lecture materials, administrative records, … should become routinely available to historians, very soon.
Correspondence, in particular, will be much better documented. Whereas we had to find two economists close enough professionally, but far enough geographically, to expect a letter correspondence between the two, now the communication by email will surely make available a much richer record of exchanges, even between two colleagues working on the same floor.
Same for archives from universities and departments, institutes, governmental organizations. It will surely encourage the development of mid-range studies, at mid-way between the “big picture” history and the biographical approach.
BIG questions will (actually, are) now on the table:
– geography of science (through geolocalization data and content analysis)
=> can we observe a phenomena of Americanization of economics?
=> is it possible to map the coming of Keynesianism to the US?
=> can we represent the impact of the European refugees in American universities from the 1930s onwards?
=> can the “travel” of a concept, and its derivations, be tracked in publications?
– interdisciplinarity (through scientometrics and content analysis)
=> what was the dynamics of of interdisciplinary contacts between economics and the rest of social and natural sciences? At the individual level? At the organizational level?
=> was the interdisciplinarity character of a research center or a deparment a fact, and in which sense?
– production of knowledge (through many methods, including network analysis and web mining)
=> what are the invisible colleges in the history of economics? Offline, and online?
=> trace back the precise genesis of a land-marking paper in a given field
=> trace back a very rich biographical portrait of a given scientist
One might object that these questions are not new. True, but a new question is most often a classic one, asked in a new way. Look at the abstract of the communication by Esther Duflo, cited by Ben in his post: her big question for development economics is all about suggesting different empirical methods for classic questions. Same for history of economics and the new methods from e-science, I’d say.
I do not pretend that the questions and methodological innovations brought by e-science should replace our existing practices. Neither do I claim that they will develop easily. They have begun to raise serious issues for librarians and curators, be it the delineation between private and professional documents contained in the digital files donated by a scholar, or the question of the preservation of digital files coded in file formats no longer used after a few years or decades. Even the “simple” question of the communication of these documents to the visiting or online historian appears to be a difficult one in practice. But they will have an impact – each of us can realize that – users as we are of emails, text editors, blogs, etc.
So what? If we agree on the above, then one important consequence emerges, I’d argue. PhD students, and all of us, ideally, in history (of economic thought, and else) would benefit from a training in the methods to address this new empirical material. Yes, it means learning a bit of programming and computing science. A New Year’s resolution for 2011?
I was so close to have found my laptop’s new wallpaper here. It makes the glamour of our profession shine. Remember, historians are would-be Indiana Jones (or is it now Julian Assange?).
It’s just that the picture is of a too small size for a full screen display. After verification, no it is not. There are more uses than just a wallpaper though. If I were at Duke, I’d print it in A3 and display it on the RBMSC Library‘s front door. Not sure it would encourage economists to donate their personal archives, but it would certainly excite patrons’s interest!
The new book of Paul Glimcher is out. Glimcher (based at NYU) is the promoter of neuroeconomics, a young field which studies the neural basis of decision-making.
There are few, if any, consensual historical narratives on neuroeconomics. Glimcher and co-authors wrote a short historical piece two years ago, but in my opinion it tried too hard to gather all possible antecedents (experimental eco, behavioral eco, signal theory, cognitive psycho, brain imaging, etc, etc) to give a comprehensive view.
And this is why I like Glimcher’s books. To convey an interest for neuroeconomics, he proceeds to re-read and interpret the long history of science in biology and medicine, pyschology and economics – if I remember well, his book of 2003 went back as far back as Gallienus, and evoked the writings of Pascal, Bernoulli, Laplace, …
Same deal for his new book: we are told the recent history of choice theory in neuroscience, psycho and eco. This exercise permits him to show that the separate disciplinary views on decision-making each suffer from espitemological deficiencies which could be remediated by making them dialoguing. And this is not a rapid rhetorical brush in the first chapters, before proceeding to “really interesting analytical stuff”. I mean, I am at page 188 and we just arrived in the late 1990s, when the first papers in the neuroscience of vision introduced economic variables in their experiments (uncertainty, intensity of reward).
Glimcher is trying hard to break the Chinese walls separating neuroscientists, psychologists and economists. The title he chose for the book suggests that he cares specially to reach economists – because they are the most insulated, I’d bet. But as an unwanted by-product, he makes neuroeconomics very interesting to historians of science too!
With a long introduction, it provides informative material for an outsider like me on how the cognitive turn played out in psychology, and presents a clear historical background getting back to Wundt and the early experimentalists, and the origins of the behaviorist revolution. Then it is followed by a series of interviews of participants in the cognitive revolution: from the opponents (Skinner and others) to the enthusiasts, and the followers.
On the substance, I was struck by how much behaviorism, which is the methodological orthodoxy that was overthrown by cognitive psychology, shares features with today’s textbook economics. Both share the status of a well-guarded orthodoxy: in their interviews, psychologists remember that behaviorism in psychology was exclusive, displaying a “nothing but” attitude: variables should be related to nothing but observable behavior, which disqualified the discussion of concepts like “memory” or “representations” ! Those words were taboo in psychology at least until the mid-1950s. Looking back, psychologists consider that the methodological rigorousness of behaviorism, which insisted that each concept be operationally defined and testable, had the effect to strip psychology from its substance: the study of cognition, consciousness, emotions and rational behavior were discouraged, virtually banned indeed, because these concepts did not readily translate into tightly defined behavioral variables that could be observed in an experimental setting.
I could not help but be reminded of a similar taboo in today’s economics, where the formation of preferences, or how the process of choice unfolds, is declared “out of bound” right from the introductory chapters in microeconomic textbooks: only an individual’s observable behavior, as it is instantiated in the outcome of the choice it performs, is to be taken into account.
The cognitive revolution in psychology crystallized around the mid-1950s, early 1960s. Forty years later, nothing of that sort happened in economics, it seems to me. With behavioral economics and neuroeconomics, maybe that economics will jump directly to the next train: the neurocognitive turn. Or will it miss that one also?
Post-script: on an approaching topic, Wade Hands has a paper forthcoming in the CJE, which is a nice read.
If I ever wanted a bad guy to feature in my stories, I had it: Stephen Enke (1916-1974).
Enke is recorded as one of the most prolific writers in top journal in economics around the 1940s, specializing in innocuous topics such as monopolistic competition (Chamberlin was in his PhD committee at Harvard) and international trade.
But around late 1940s, he started writing on subjects with a more charged and dubious moral dimension. One of the first economists hired by the RAND Coporation, he founded the Logistics Department there in 1953. In his researches at Rand, he had no scruple pondering questions of life and death for millions of people in terms of financial cost and benefits. He was far from being alone, would you immediately reply. I know, but Enke has pushed the cost-benefit logic several steps beyond.
Enke left RAND in 1958, and in 1959 seems to have spent a year in India studying the explosion of demographics. One of his solutions to the “population problem” was to propose the payment of cash bonus to Indian males accepting sterilization through vasectomy (he estimated for the Review of Economics and Statistics that the rational payment to the sterilized person should amount to 700 rupees).
During the 1960s, Enke visited South Africa and Rhodesia. One of his contributions that I have been able to retrieve was a piece entitled: “Why should we apologize for recent colonialism?”, published in Optima, the journal of a local holding. In my recollection, this article was detailing the great economic benefits brought by colonial countries to Africa, very much in line with Enke’s approach to other social issues.
Then after a 5-year stint as professor of economics at Duke, among many other duties that retained him often in Washington, in 1968 Enke became the manager of economic development programs for Technical Military Planning Operation – TEMPO (General Electric’s Center for Advanced Studies at Santa Barbara, California). There, he continued to work on “economic effects of slowing population growth” but also on “the economy of South Vietnam”, according to some archives held by the Hoover Institute.
In 1949, he had refused to sign the loyalty oath put in place by the University of California. I don’t have the record at hand, but appearing before some committee of professors, he stated that he had complied to many security checks to join the RAND Corporation, but did not see why he would have to undergo the same kind of scrutiny coming from the Regents of a university. It is not clear whether or not he was ultimately fired from UCLA (Robert Leonard in his “War as a simple problem” 1991 article says he was, but new archival sources would show that Enke finally complied).
In 1953, when solicited by Fritz Machlup to donate some money for the defense of the principal target of McCarthy, Owen Lattimore from the University of Johns Hopkins, Enke’s reply was the following (click on the pic to enlarge it):
This facet of Enke does not fit squarely with the cold warrior figure he was in other respects.
So, what should we do with Stephen Enke? I am not calling for a judgment of praise or condemnation (so “out” the bad guy story). I just try to understand this career and positions which taken together, do not make complete sense to me. Having access to his family archives (if any) or the memory of his former colleagues would help, I suppose.
(if the persons pictured would like to see their portrait removed, please send me simply a note).
HISRECO: Annual conference in HIStory of RECent ECOnomic thought, taking place in Europe.
HES: History of Economics Society, gathering in the US or Canada.
The history … I have to tell you [is] this. You can put it on the record or off, whichever you want, it’s kind of amusing and you’ll enjoy it.
I went back in October of ’46, and the first thing I did when I got back to Washington for any period of time I had been back and forth all the time in between was to get my teeth fixed at the dentist. And the dentist was a great guy. He filled teeth with gold and he believed in the gold standard and these fool economists who wanted to get off the gold standard were silly, because all this meant was the price of gold went up. Anyhow, he’d get me there to fix my teeth and read me a lecture on the gold standard. He said, “Mr. Blaisdell, you know Lord Keynes?”
I said, “Yes, I know him.”
“Well, you know, when he was here last time?”
And I said, “Yes, I know, I know very well.”
He said, “Well, he has trouble with teeth and continuously failed to fix them. I looked at him and I [the dentist] said, ‘Lord Keynes, I think we’d better take this tooth out. It should be extracted. It’s causing you trouble.’ And Keynes said, “No.”
He said, “Well, Lord Keynes, really, it’s infected. It’s a bad abscess, and I would advise you to have it out.”
And Keynes said, “No, please drain it, I will have it taken care of when I get back to London.”
Said the dentist, “I told Lord Keynes, ‘You let that tooth go and in six weeks you’ll be dead.’ ”
And, by golly, in six weeks he was dead.
[Oral History Interview with Thomas C. Blaisdell, Jr. , pp.42-44. Retrieved from The Truman Library.]
When reading Dorothy Ross’ The Origins of American Social Science, I was surprised to see that she relied on the concept of “American exceptionalism” -which I understood as the belief that the US had a kind of special destiny in this world, a belief which impregnated the social thought of the 19th and 20th century.
This concept put me ill at ease, as it was not clear whether “American exceptionalism” was a belief (among others) held by the intellectuals studied by Ross, or if Ross herself thought that indeed, there is such a thing as a unique and distinctive “Americaness” to be accounted for by historians. I had forgotten all this, until I read this morning in a history of the labor standards:
The study of the American role in the international labor standards movement also contributes … to an understanding of general American history and the American policy process. It clarifies the extent and nature of American exceptionalism, that is, the tendency for the United States to follow an especially distinctive or restrained social policy course compared to other industrial democracies.
(Edward C. Lorenz. 2001. Defining Global Justice. The History of U.S. International Labor Standards Policy, Univ. of Notre-Dame Press, p. 8).
I am really not sure of the fruitfulness of this distinction. To be clear, I find it irrelevant and parochial. Of course, nations have their particularities, their traditions, etc. And if the American people see themselves as having a particular destiny in history, then it is a relevant intellectual feature to be taken into account by the historian. But it seems to me that the historians have no use of this concept to characterize their own work. After all, on what ground should a country’s history be declared “exceptional”? I am sure their is an extensive debate in historiography about this, and I would be glad to learn more about it!
Few recent concepts have as complicated a historiography as “social Darwinism”. To make a long story short:
– Thanks to a beautiful bibliometric study by Geoffrey Hodgson published in the Journal of the History of Sociology, we know for sure that the expression “social Darwinism” was not much in use in Anglo-Saxon academic literature before the 1940s – and why.
– In 1944, historian Richard Hofstadter’s wrote a study of evolutionary analogies in American social thought during the 1870-1920s, and called it “Social Darwinism in American Thought.” Since then, the term has been ubiquitous. Because of Hofstadter’s book success, most people inferred that “social Darwinism” was indeed widely used in the historical period covered by the book, and that it designated a corresponding intellectual movement, with its representative figures and texts, etc.
– In 1979, Robert Bannister wrote “Social Darwinism: Science and Myth in Anglo-American Social Thought”. In my opinion, Bannister’s project was ambiguous.
One could say that he rightly tried to clear up the misunderstanding that had developed since 1944 and Hofstadter’s book. Social Darwinism was not widely used as an expression in the US of the late 19th century, nor did it represent a coherent body of thought, as a too-quick reading of Hofstadter’s book would have it.
But one could also say that Bannister was defending something stronger than that. He really seemed to imply that social Darwinism was a myth – that in fact, the denomination covered no relevant meaning at all.
– In 1984, Donald Bellomy wrote one of the finest pieces in intellectual history that I came across. In “Social Darwinism” revisited, Bellomy ponders Bannister’ claims that social Darwinism was really a myth.
The scholarship Bellomy displays is simply *huge*, and his reflection is so very nuanced. Right from the introduction, he clarifies that the “myth question” is simply not the relevant one:
– There is no consensus on what “Social Darwinism” really is? Far from proving that the concept is a myth, it should merely recall us that “confusion over the definition of a term is not itself cause for dispensing with it; virtually any designation of a broad cultural phenomenon can be distressingly malleable, as Arthur O. Lovejoy demonstrated in his dissections of romanticism, primitivism, and pragmatism.”
– No one thought of himself as a “Social Darwinist”? That “needs not trouble us unduly. After all, medieval schoolman, classical republican, and romantic poet were not categories available to individuals at the time but were imposed, with more or less finesse, by later generations.”
After over 100 pages of careful study, Bellomy concludes that “Whether or not “Social Darwinism” was a myth, in the restricted sense by which Bannister interprets myth, every serious thinker had to come to terms with Darwinism and evolution.”
This is were I had left the historiographical debate on social Darwinism. But in 2009, the “myth” interpretation gets a new boost, with a forthcoming article by one of the most prominent members of our profession:
Leonard, T.C., Origins of the myth of social Darwinism: The ambiguous legacy of Richard Hofstadter’s Social Darwinism in American Thought. J. Econ. Behav. Organ. (2009), doi:10.1016/j.jebo.2007.11.004
Leonard’s article focuses on the Hofstadter episode of this historiographic saga, and endorses Bannister’s revisionist views on social Darwinism – that it should be considered a myth, essentially built by scholars from the Left who distrusted laisser-faire policies. Surely, calling something a myth is not an invitation to further historical investigation of the cultural phenomena it pretends to denominate. And I think more historical investigation is precisely what is needed here, as Bellomy had emphasized in his conclusion:
“Finally, a determination of Darwinism’s influence will emerge only through immersion in the intellectual artifacts of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They must be studied in their own terms, not simply as antecedents of contemporary social and political arguments or fields or research, if our goal is to comprehend either the past or present.”
In many previous articles, Leonard contributed a marvelous analysis of the eugenic views of the economists in the Progressive Era. We need more of the same kind of work on the intellectuals and businessmen labelled as social Darwinists.
Note: it is a pity that the article by Bellomy, of the size of a small book, was published in a journal impossible to find in most European libraries (except for the LSE library, as far as I can tell). The reference is:
Donald C. Bellomy, “Social Darwinism’ revisited,” Perspectives in American History 1 (1984): 1-129.
At the next HISRECO meeting at Antwerp, Belgium in June, I predict that this game would largely outsell the books and journals usually displayed on their tables outside the conference rooms.
It features the perfect cocktail of enthusiasm for a past historical event and an extremely poor level of playability that scholars would rightly expect from a boardgame. It is called “1960: The Making of the President” and reenacts the campaign that opposed Nixon to Kennedy.
The following teaser shouldn’t let your soul of historian at rest until you spent nights playing the game:
“As with any election campaign, the challenge is to adapt your game plan as the ground shifts out from under you. There are never enough resources or time to do everything, but you need to make the tough calls to propel yourself into the White House. This fast-playing strategy game for two players challenges you to run for the most powerful elective office in the world, at one of its most unique crossroads. Will you recreate history, or rewrite it? 1960: The Making of the President provides you the opportunity to do both.”
Recreating and rewriting history comes to an effort, as we know well. With “The Making of a President”, you will have to swallow a 16-pages booklet of game rules, and from personal experience I can guarantee that your first game will surely last more than 5 hours. A long time, considering that the coin toss attributed me the depressing task of bringing Nixon to the White House.
Each card features historical events, from the incidental (Nixon knee injury which prevented him from actively campaigning for two weeks) to the more consequential (the media consequences of the the U2 pilot trial in USSR) which each made a contribution to the final outcome. One of the three stakes of the campaign is “the economy” (along civil rights and defense), so I had a distinct competitive advantage here, which did not prevent me from loosing the TV debate on this topic, in the 6th round of the game.
With a remarkable rating of 7.89 / 10 on boardgamegeek.com, this is a must-buy for each member of our profession specializing in 1950 history and after. I can’t be 100% affirmative though: we stopped as we got so bored after 4 hours playing.