Referencing dilemma – what to do?

I find it frustrating when in-text references read (Keynes 1973) or (Quesnay 1963). This leaves me to go and find the bibliographical notes to try and discover which works are being referred to and when they were written.  Often the when is significant to understand what is being said by Quesnay, or ‘which’ Keynes is writing – the 1943 Treasury Civil Servant or the young man frustrated with the Versailles Treaty in 1919. If an article then refers to Keynes several times from a ‘collected works’ edition, the time context is almost impossible to decipher as every reference is to 1973 and the reader needs to check page-numbers and chapters to find the original dates. Some authors add extra text before every quote and citation which reads “In year xxx, Dr. yyy wrote”.  I feel this makes the reading slow, tedious and I still have to double-check the years after reading a quote or citation. Such referencing, to me, does not work. But what might be the best practice for referencing translated and re-printed works in the text?

Having checked the brief Harvard guide (that’s the system I’m stuck with) there does not seem to be a rule… There is a rule for translated work in the reference section – using the original year first. Similarly for articles in edited volumes the original date is noted first, with the edited volume’s year of publication later in the reference. From this I infer that the reference in the text would be to the original year and not the edited work. So what do you feel is the best practice?

Let’s take an example: There is a poem by Voltaire written in 1736 entitled Mondrain, translated first by Tobias Smollet [as Man of the World] in 1901 and this translation is re-produced (ad verbatim) in a collected volume by Henry Clark in 2003, which I am using. All this detail is in the full reference at the back. The year of the poem matters to the exposition – as Voltaire will write for another 40+ years, so what do you feel is the best reference in-text? Is it (Voltaire 1738), (Voltaire 1901), (Voltaire 2003) or something fourth, or fifth with square brackets perhaps?

Poetry in archives

Poetry pops up the strangest places… Stephen Ziliak was recently in the news for inspiring Haiku Economics, and I had gotten used to enjoying Voltaire’s prose on economics, but I was not expecting to find poetry in the US Office of Price Administration’s archives from the Second World War. But there it was, the poem “On Economists” from Fred Warner Neal at Harvard to Richard V. Gilbert, apparently unpublished, but in many places so very very spot on – even today. Neal wrote Gilbert that he was “delighted that an “economists’ economist” like yourself liked it. I don’t know how well some of the boys up here appreciated it”, and I think you’ll enjoy it too.

To avoid filling up the whole blog I have cut the poem at the third stansa, but click and it will fold out in all its glory, including some nice insights into 1943 economic thinking from the heartland of U.S. Keynesianism.

On Economists, By Fred Warner Neal:

Seeking cycles small and large,
Economists are want to barge
Upon a theory, here and there,
Devoid, perhaps (at least quite bare)
Of any rhyme of cogent reason
For being, now or in any season.

With scissors they seek to analyze
Things that never never crystalyze
Into reality, and plot curves smooth
That never will be, and try to soothe
Their brows, on fire for failing
To stop the leaks by only bailing.

Does the Margin fix the cost?
Debate on this means much time lost.
Some hide logic ’neath a hedge
Claim cost fixed at, not by, the edge;
While others, splitting hairs with sabre
Base their theories all on labor.
Or maybe on the land where sat
Once the mighty Physiocrat.
Continue reading “Poetry in archives”

Doing the Archives

These last days, I have received – like some of you I guess – two guidelines about how to do a master or a Phd Thesis in history of economics. That is too bad that I completed mine 10 years ago! Anyway, I am not sure that these pieces are really useful for it very much depends on what is the conception of history of economics you have and you intend to convey in your work. The best advice I can give – and that is the way I proceeded myself – is to look a recent Phd Thesis from someone you respect as a scholar and whom you feel shares your general methodological outlook, and use it as a kind of reference document.  Receiving these guidelines made me wonder about the fact that in the blog, which is made by if not made for young (and not so young anymore) scholars there is, indeed, very little information about one organizes his research work.

There was a time, not so long ago, when the would-be historian of economics can safely go on the first day of his research the university library, inquire the librarian about where the complete works of Ricardo (by Sraffa) or the complete work of Marx (or Keynes or Hayek) were and very much sit here for the rest of his Phd Thesis. c4cea1e828This is not the case anymore and it is now common and almost an obligatory requirement for a Phd student to have done some archival work. However, doing the Archives can be a very different – sometime nice, sometime quite painful – experience depending on which Archives you go. A few looks like that:

registres-3But quite often, you end up like this nice looking young researcher on the left. This image might look scary, but you may have gotten the wrong idea. Because for all the reassuring neatness and geometrical perfection of the archive below, the archivist may have done a very lousy job in cataloging it, meaning that you probably would have to open half of the drawers and go thoroughly through their content to get anywhere. Whereas, on the other hand, the half-smiling women might very well be the curator who knows in detail the content of the folders she is actually browsing for preparing the new catalog and you would get what you want in less than an hour!

More seriously, when looking forward to do an archive, it is very important to understand that the easier you get the information – by browsing on a digitallized catalog for example – the less chance you have to find something really new and unexpected. On the other hand, when you are inquiring about an archive on which you have very little information it is most important to keep a very open mind and to be a little stubborn even when the odds seems against you. Moreover, keep in mind that curators or archivists made mistakes and have limited knowledge of the content of their own archives. When one has been working for a long time in a specific archive, one often knows it better than its own curator.

Let me share a recent – last week in fact – experience I had in the Archives of the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.  In the context of a research project we are conducting with Yann on the visualization in US economics, we became interested in the Vienna economist and philosopher Otto Neurath and its possible connections on the other side of the Atlantic. As one of the former directors of the MSI was cousin to the economist and philosopher Otto Neurath, we inquired about the possible existence of a correspondence between the two cousins. We were told by an assistant curator that there was no correspondence. Indeed, as I discovered last week, the same assistant curator had been already sollicited, two years ago, by another researcher for the same piece and after working on it for a few days was unable to find it. The same researcher who was preparing a book on Neurath e-mailed the MSI  again a few months later because he would go to Chicago for a conference, asking if it was worthwhile passing by the Museum archives to give a try about the correspondence. As the assistant curator repeated to him that he was unable to find anything, the researcher decided not to come. Hence, when he answered to our query, the assistant curator was pretty sure that there was nothing to find.

Being in Chicago for another project, I decided to give it a try anyway and spend a few days, at least one, in the MSI archives. The first day, I came with my sole computer not knowing if there was anything worthy. Looking through the inventory (made by the same competent assistant curator mentioned above) I did find a few things, enough to spend the whole day there and too decide to come back two days later with a digital camera to save my findings. I did not find the correspondence though: at the letter “N”, there was no folder “Neurath”. However, I found a mention to a letter the former MSI Director received from Neurath in one of the documents I read. It was enough to convince that there might be something that have been missed. On the second day and after digitallizing what I had found , I decided to go ‘fishing’. What I did was fairly simple and obvious, instead of looking  at the name of the person, I looked at the name of the institution he was in charge at the time (the Vienna Museum of Economy and Society). And, indeed, I found the correspondence: dozens of letters and a few important documents that were supposed not to exist. Later on (I came for a third day), I tried to force my luck and repeat the same procedure with another individual. But this time I end up in a dead endd: the box I wanted to look at was nowhere to be found (I was looking for the box with the letter P, but the boxes between M and R were missing). We looked with the assistant curator in the premisses, but nothing! However, instead of calling it a day I asked for another kind of documents (pictures) to spend the two hours that were left for my last day at the archives. The assistant curator took me to the location where the pictures were archived but we were unable to find any of interest for me. Out of sheer curiosity, I browsed the shelves and look at the name on the boxes that were around, just to find the correspondence box I was looking after a few hours before. Inside was indeed the piece of correspondence I expected and a few valuable documents.

To sum up this very long post:

– When there might be a chance you can get an important piece of information or documentation in an archive, but you are told that there is nothing by the archivist. Try to verify it by yourself and take the necessary few days to do it properly. If you find nothing, which happens quite often, you may have lose a few hours or a few days, but if you find something unexpected you may have gain an easy and good article or a chapter from your forthcoming Phd thesis, which may in turn launch or speed up your career.

– When you plan to do an archive, use all the time you have even if the odds are that you ain’t gonna get anything more.

– Keep an open mind, if you do not find something at the obvious location it does not mean it is not there, it might have been placed somewhere else because the archivist does not have the same logic as you (you are thinking names of individuals and he sees names of institutions, or the reverse) or because it have been misplaced (shit happens).

– Do not lose heart. Especially when working on a archive that has not been properly catalogued or arranged. Quite often, the first hours or even the first days are not very useful: you do not know how to begin, what you are really looking for, you do not understand the logic of classification (which is almost always different in each archive). You may have the impression that it is like finding a needle in a haystack, there is however one big difference: when the archives are classified and most of them are, it means that there is a logic to it, you just have to find it! – Needless to say that it is easier say than done.

What should we do with Stephen Enke?

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.

Overall, Enke is an economist that does not figure in the gallery of portrait of my heroes. So I was quite disconcerted to find, in relation to my researches on economists,  McCarthyism and the Owen Lattimore affair (sorry for this bit of self-promotion), that Enke did not stand on the side I expected.

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):

Enke to Machlup, Feb 17, 1953. Machlup papers, Hoover Institution Archives.
Enke to Machlup, Feb 17, 1953. Machlup papers, Hoover Institution Archives.

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.

World Digital Library

The United Nations released its World Digital Library: an open digital library collecting materials from several different countries, in different languages and from different time periods.

Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley, White House, 1970 (Library of Congress)
Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley, White House, 1970 (National Archives and Records Administration, USA)

This was a project proposed to the UN by James Billington, director of the US Library of Congress. It provides nowadays access to the libraries of 32 institutions. The UN has as a goal to expand the number of institutions that are part of this project.

There are different types of materials available: books, journals, manuscripts, maps, motion pictures, prints and photographs, and sound recordings. As far as I could sense, the majority of this material is from the period before the XIXth century. The items prints and photographs, motion pictures and sound recordings are probably the ones containing most of the material from the last century. I couldn’t find anything related even to famous economists (Quesnay, Smith, Ricardo, Marx, Keynes, etc). Nonetheless, as the UN promises to expand the project, this may become a more relevant source for the majority of the historians of economics.

The Wheel of Misfortune (in the archives)

If you definitely want to prevent an undergrad from doing research in HET, you just have to show him Box 1 of Patinkin’s papers at the Duke Library. This is where are stored the raw materials Patinkin has collected to write his 1973 AER piece on Frank Knight’s “Wheel of Wealth”.  The archives show that Patinkin has looked at many books, textbooks and documents to find the origin of the diagram Knight used in the classroom and in his Economic Organization to represent the allocative functions of the price system in a capitalist economy.

The list of books Patinkin has scanned for this research is pretty impressive: it goes from Cantillon to Taussig and includes the works of Bastiat, Cannan, Marshall, Ely among many others. Most often, it ended up with a “no relevant diagram or text” scribbled under the reference. Then he went on with the books and textbooks that contain diagrams and pointed them out, noting the relevant pages and adding some stark comments: “some diagrams are pictures, not analytical diagrams” (on Fisher’s introductory text), “a lot of diagrams” (on Marshall’s Principles, which he didn’t bother to enumerate). He wrote to the University of Chicago’s archivist, obtained some copies of Knight’s unpublished manuscripts, wrote to Samuelson (the letter is mentioned in Knight’s article on “Frank Knight as Teacher”, which is also included in the same issue of the AER, but is not in the archives at Duke), wrote to McGraw-Hill, scanned the first eight editions of Economics, observed that Knight is not mentioned (except in the 2nd edition).

As you can expect, the result of all that is rather meager. The 1973 article does not locate the origin of Knight’s Wheel of Wealth, noting that it is possible that “it seems to have been original to him” (p. 1044). For the contemporary historian of economics – especially for the author of these lines -, it is also very frustrating. Like the 1973 piece, the archives show that Patinkin was fascinated (if not obsessed) by Knight’s diagrams but never unveil the reasons for this fascination.

Quite depressing, uh?

Well, yes …and no … because in fact, Patinkin’s unfruitful research produced two articles published in the AER (!) … and if we, the kids, could expect such a prestigious output every time we embark on a bibliographical research of that sort, I guess we would have already been considered for a tenure somewhere …

Zotero and scholarship for historians

I just discovered (thx to Micha Werner) an excellent software for bibliography. So far, I had tinkered with an Excel sheet and the mail merge functions of Word, which advantageously replaced Endnotes for the use I had.

But ZOTERO, developed by George Mason University beats everything:

Minority Report, directed by Steven Spielberg (2002)

– excessively user-friendly (you can start using it without training)

– not exactly a software, but an add-on incorporated in your Firefox browser

– detects automatically and imports in a click the references displayed on the webpages you are browsing (like your search results page on J-Stor or Science Direct)

– allows you to tag, comment, classify, link, import and export all your entries (e.g., from and to Endnotes)

– integrated to Word

– formatting styles for journals available in rapidly increasing numbers

– and in a very preliminary beta test: allows you to host all your bibliographical files (pdfs etc.) on a distant server. So that you access all your bibliography + files from any computer.

– free licence.

Endnotes is seriously threatened! (Thomson Reuters, which develops it, tried to fight Zotero on legal grounds – and lost).

I have never heard of senior historians of economics sharing their experience on organizing their archives and bibliography, as if it was dirty kitchen work, not worth revealing.

But PDFs, pictures from the archives, stacks of photocopies, interviews, photographies, correspondence…, all of this has to be professionally, or at least seriously, organized. Above a couple of hundreds of references (not mentionning thousands), it becomes hard to manage it in DIY mode.

Gaston Lagaffe, a comic strip created by Franquin in 1957

There are nice tools out there to do it, and they would be worth advertizing to the students starting a PhD. It will become all the more relevant that the archives used by historians are diversifying: entries of blogs, websites, emails, videos, files in all formats, softwares… digital archiving is a technical business. Zotero has been developed by the Center for History and New Media at GMU, and that should be an encouragement for historians of economics to board the train.


If one were to create an archive of public media about the unfolding crisis what would one include?

  • newspaper and magazine clippings
  • blogs entries and podcasts
  • political literature, pamphlets, position papers, presidential campaigning
  • television clips, special programs and transcripts of news reports

The purpose would be to file a record of public imagination on the crisis. To do it as it unfolded and so capture a different kind of register that would otherwise be perishable. What am I missing?

Guiding the archives

I was surprised to find this website: I was not surprised to read who is behind this online guide to economists’ archives: Susan Howson, Donald Moggridge, and Donald Winch. I was also not surprised by the content of the site: a cross listing of where to find papers and correspondence with a few familiar background references. My surprise was at stumbling upon it without having heard of it before. Surely, this is a resource to advertise and maybe build upon. So, I was depressed to find that the Duke archives are not listed.

After recovering from the bouts of self-assurance, surprise and depression, I filled in the sidebar form that asks “How useful did you find the website during your visit?” My answer was “Very Useful,” even more useful after seeing the results of the online poll. Between February 2007 and today only 49 people filled it in. Too few.

Fear and Loathing in the Archive

To get to the archives I went up down left and right on Harvard Yard but Pusey Library was nowhere to be found. I had walked over it several times not considering that the Library named after the twenty year President of Harvard, and the man who broke the Harvard Strike of 1969, was a bunker hidden from sight. Willingly I entered the dimly lit and cloistered space. Outside promised rain, already muggy and looking generally nasty.

I was not happy to be there. I had sent an email in advance, the no response made me unsure if I would be able to open a single box of the Leontief and Gershenkron papers. I was also severely jet lagged, and made myself awake by ingesting heavy quantities of overpriced coffee.

At the library door, I was barred by a rumpled hippie, beads and all that. He asked for my passport and filled in paperwork to allow me in. The irony was heavy on my stomach, or maybe it was the salmonella in the tomatoes. Pusey is staffed by freaks. They smile at you and ask if there is a big Visigoth influence in the racial make up of Portugal. You could do away with the ecstasy pills, the bunnies and the ostriches, if you got a job at Pusey.

The wizards of the history of economics say about archives:

“By painting a picture of life within the community of economists, such correspondence can help researchers to better understand the development of economic thought, the public and private motives of individuals, and the process of interaction within and across intellectual communities.” — Weintraub et al, JEL, Sep. 1998

On most days this is a good description of what to do with archives. I have heard a lot less credible stories: one history fiend once told me that he got no high from archives and would rather other people do it. The reasoning was that if some specialized, others could be forgiven the trip.

My gig is different. I search the archive for the craziness. My Magnum 44 eyes the turn of phrase. I am treking for the characters of my plot and the little story that gets missed in the written and proper record. It is the understanding I am looking for, but also the props for the staging. After all, history is storytelling.


Robert Solow was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1987. Late October, Solow found in his post a box from Reebok, inside a pair of tennis shoes and a note saying:

My colleagues and I here at Reebok are very proud to have a recipient of this highest of accolades here with us in Boston.

Solow, famous for his quick wit, replied:

Thanks for the walking shoes. I have already tried them and they’re a complete pleasure – easy, light and comfortable. I don’t know why my feet deserve this reward for something that presumably happened at the opposite end of me, but both ends are grateful.

(Both letters are in Robert Solow Papers, Rare Book, Manuscripts and Special Collections Library, Duke University, Box 19.)