Sonia Manseri, 2014-15 HOPE Center Fellow

The experiences and questions that spark an interest in a particular subject often come from unexpected places.

For Sonia Manseri, a 2014-15 HOPE Center Fellow, that place was the supermarket.

It was while working in a supermarket in a northern suburb of Paris during her first year as an undergraduate that Sonia first became interested in economics.

“I wanted to understand why the supermarket, as a place of employment, was organized like it was. Why did it pay the wages it paid? Why did people agree to work there?”

Her interest in economics soon led to an interest in the history of the discipline. She recalls studying Robert Solow’s growth model in an economics class. “But there was no attention to the history of the model, or to Solow’s life and experiences. Those are the things I was really interested in.”

So she enrolled in a master’s program on the history of economics that was taught at her university, Paris 1. One of her teachers was Michaël Assous, himself a former HOPE Center Fellow.

Currently a student at the Ecole Normale Superière of Cachan, Sonia is spending a year doing archival work before beginning a PhD program this fall at Paris 1. She spent this past fall in Cambridge, where she worked on the papers of Nicolas Kaldor. This spring, at Duke, she is working on the papers of Evsey Domar, which are part of the Economists’ Papers Project housed in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Her project aims to understand Domar’s growth models and the link Domar made between growth and public debt.

She says that studying how Domar coped with the question of growth, from his original view in his 1947 PhD thesis to the one he adopted when joining the faculty at MIT ten years later, could yield insights into the dynamics that drove growth theory at that time.

Domar’s correspondence has been especially illuminating. “I’m trying to place Domar in a story, and for that I need to understand who he was working with, where he was working, what kinds of ideas he was trying out on people. His letters open that world for me.”

Sonia began her undergraduate education as a physics major. “But it wasn’t human enough for me,” she says.

She’s also interested in the role of economics in relation to the other social sciences.

“I love the economic way of looking at things. But economics needs to remember that there are other social sciences too. Psychology, sociology—they all have something useful to say about how society works, how markets work.”

--Paul Dudenhefer