Letter from Director

Dear Colleague,

Thank you for your interest in the National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Institute on “The History of Political Economy.”  The Institute will be held on the campus of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina from May 29 – June 17, 2016. I invite your application to participate in this exciting endeavor, and strongly encourage you to review the eligibility criteria.

The institute will explore various episodes in the history of economics from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. The intended audience is faculty in economics and the humanities who desire to explore economic knowledge in a historically informed, inter-disciplinary fashion. "Humanities" is here broadly defined to include other social sciences.

In creating this institute we are responding in part to the fact that the history of economic thought has been disappearing as a subject within American economics departments. It is part of our mission to reverse that trend. We applied to the NEH for the summer institute rather than to another funding agency because the history of economic thought is one of the few subjects in the curriculum where economists must connect economics to other disciplines within the humanities and social sciences.

Duke University is an ideal site for the program. Duke is home to the Center for the History of Political Economy, whose mission is to promote research in, and the teaching of, the history of economics. The Center has an active fellowship program, weekly workshops and lunches for the discussion of academic work, an annual conference, and, for the past six summers, some form of summer programming. This is the third time that the Summer Institute is supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The institute will run for three weeks, from Sunday May 29 through Friday June 17. Registration and a welcome dinner will take place on the first Sunday. For the first four days of each week there will be 2 sessions, each lasting roughly 2 hours (with a brief 5-8 minute break after the first hour), one in the morning and one in the afternoon. On Fridays there will be only the morning session. Participants may do as they like on the weekends. There will be a closing dinner on Thursday, June 16, and the NEH Summer Scholars will depart after the Friday morning session. Some may, however, wish to stay on to attend the annual meeting of the History of Economics Society, which will take place from June 17 – 21. This will give participants a chance to see historians of economics in action! 

The institute will not survey the history of economics, but rather will undertake a selective, in-depth treatment of topics. Each week will have a different theme and period. Week one will explore alternative readings and understandings of key texts from the Scottish Enlightenment.  The second week will examine alternative paradigms in economics that emerged in the 19th century. Week three will be devoted to the question of the role of the state in the economy as it played out in the writings of certain justifiably famous 20th century economists. 

Discussions will be led by multiple visiting faculty who are specialists in the specific subject matter under discussion, drawn from economics and other disciplines, each of whom will visit from 2 – 3 days. The content of the Institute is described in more detail directly below.  As will be seen, sometimes the interdisciplinary elements will derive from the fact that the discussion leaders are from different disciplines. Even when this is not the case, however, the make-up of the participant list will ensure that different sensibilities are brought to the readings and subsequent discussions. 



In Week One, after an opening session in which people introduce themselves and goals and approaches are outlined, we turn to an exploration of some of the ideas and personalities associated with the Scottish Enlightenment. We will begin by exploring mercantilism, the loose body of doctrines whose emergence accompanied the rise of the nation-state and the quest for national power in the early modern period.  The mercantilists argued that the state grows strong by acquiring gold and silver, which led them to advocate protectionist policies – those promoting and subsidizing export industries, and limiting or taxing imports – that would lead to a net inflow of bullion.  Adam Smith and later economists criticized the mercantilists, and those criticisms laid the basis for the preference for free trade that many economists today share. But this standard account may be too narrow a reading of both mercantilist writers and their critics. Caldwell will present the standard reading of mercantilism and its defects, and historian of economics Maria Pia Paganelli will present Hume as an alternative case-study. 

We next explore further the contributions of two giants of the period, Adam Smith and David Hume, detailing their separate attempts to develop a science of human nature.  In Smith’s case we do this by showing how his two great works, The Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments, sometimes portrayed as contradictory, can be read as forming an integrated whole. The session on Wealth of Nations will highlight areas where Smith’s arguments would feel familiar to economics students today, but also those that deviate from modern conceptions. In the session on Theory of Moral Sentiments, readings and discussion focus on Smith’s foundational concepts of sympathy and spectatorship, his theory of self-love and the desire to better one’s condition – the last a key element of his analysis of the motivations for commercial activity in Wealth of Nations but which receives its most memorable explications in Theory of Moral Sentiments. Caldwell leads the discussion on the first book, and Paganelli on the second. 

            In Hume’s case we use secondary sources, as interpreted by one of the leading scholars of the Scottish Enlightenment, historian Nicholas Phillipson. Phillipson will show that disciplinary specialization has had the unintended effect of fragmenting and obscuring our understanding of the intellectual and historical dynamics that shaped the writings of those who sought to create a “science of man.” The coherence of their thought across what would today be viewed as very different fields of study has been lost. Phillipson will try to recapture that vision by exploring Hume’s thinking about the terms on which such a science of man could be conducted.

            In the final two sessions experimental economist Bart Wilson will explore the relationship of experimental studies to the Enlightenment concept of “conjectural history” and to some of the assertions about human nature that emerge from Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments.  The sessions will include laboratory experiments to demonstrate how experimental economics can elucidate our reading of Enlightenment thinkers in the 21st century.

We shift focus in Week Two by concentrating on some alternative approaches to understanding economic phenomena that emerged in the 19th century. The first four sessions will be on Karl Marx and the Marxist tradition, and will be led by a senior scholar of Marxism, Duncan Foley. After presenting the fundamentals of Marxian analysis in the first two sessions, the next two will be used 1) to criticize the ideas of Adam Smith and the classical economists, and 2) to engage in a thought experiment, in which a Marxian economic system that incorporates insights from complexity theory is envisaged, and contrasted with a similarly envisaged Hayekian system. The first two sessions draw on primary source literature, the second two on works by Foley and Caldwell. The next three sessions will look at various aspects of the “Marginal Revolution” of the 1870s (marginalism forms the foundation of modern microeconomics).  The first explores the meaning of marginalism by examining three wonderfully different (historiographically-speaking) pieces from the secondary literature, the second looks at debates between the Austrian branch of marginalism and its German historical school, socialist, and positivist opponents, and the third describes how marginalism and its critics came to America in the late 19th century. The final two sessions of the week examine the reform impulses of the Progressive era and show how this ultimately developed into a set of doctrines known as institutionalism, a uniquely American brand of economics that drew on German historicism, Darwinian theory, and pragmatism. Tim Leonard, who was one of the most highly-praised discussion leaders of the 2013 institute, returns to lead the discussion for the final two sessions.       

             A fundamental question, one that has held a prominent place in the discourse of economists since before the days of Adam Smith, has concerned the proper role of the state in the economy. After World War II, there was a growing movement towards expansion of the welfare state and the use of discretionary monetary and fiscal policy (sometimes called “Keynesian economics”) to combat the business cycle. By the end of the century, however, these trends were reversed, as calls for an increase in globalization, the imposition of constraints on the growth of government, and the defense of free markets, became more widely heard. In Week Three we examine the question of the role of the state from a variety of perspectives.

We begin with sessions on two great antagonists (and friends!), Friedrich Hayek and John Maynard Keynes, that trace out the development of their thought, and their intellectual battles with each other, in the crucial decade of the 1930s. The Hayek session will be led by Caldwell, and the Keynes session by Duke Professor Craufurd Goodwin.

            Both Keynes and Hayek viewed themselves as “liberals.” But what did they mean by the word?  The next three sessions explore different possibilities. In 1947 Hayek founded the Mont Pèlerin Society, an organization whose statement of principles invoked and defended “absolute moral standards,” the “rule of law,” and a “belief in private property and the competitive market.” Historian Angus Burgin will lead an examination of the society’s commitments, institutional structure, and influence, as well as the significant disagreements among some of its leading figures. The second session, led by Goodwin, will explore the evolution of Keynes’s ideas on policy as revealed in both his newspaper and weekly writings and his interaction with the most important journalist of the period, Walter Lippmann.  The third session, led by Burgin, explores the effects of postwar technological developments on ideas about the market economy in a “post-industrial society.”   

For economists, the term “Chicago school of economics” conjures up a host of doctrines, among them the reliance on free markets and use of rules rather than discretion for the guidance of monetary policy. As is so often the case, the actual history is messier, as the next three sessions will demonstrate. The first examines the evolution of the Chicago school from its origins in the 1930s through the latter part of the twentieth century. Steve Medema will show elements of continuity and change within the Chicago school itself, and trace the evolving professional perception of Chicago economics. One remarkable feature of the Chicago school has been its members’ efforts to claim portions of the terrain of such disciplines as law, political science, and sociology for their own, which has led to charges by some of “economics imperialism.” Eddie Nik-Khah will explore how these efforts by Chicago scholars to expand the domain of economics has also reflected the political mobilization of thought. In the third session, the three discussion leaders will have a conversation on some unresolved issues regarding the Chicago school, offering different perspectives on such questions as: What role, if any, did Hayek play in creating the school? What role did outside funding, either corporate or from foundations, play in the generation and spread of ideas? Is it possible to offer a working definition of liberalism that would encompass the views of the many different people we have encountered this week?

In the final and closing session, loose ends will be tied up, and we will discuss as a group what worked well at this year’s summer institute, as well as those areas where improvements could be made.

It will be evident that, to the extent that participants might be inspired to go on to teach the history of economics or in some way integrate what they have learned into their courses or research, the outlined program is only a starting point. The Center for the History of Political Economy will continue to provide various forms of follow-up and support. We are engaged in an ongoing process of developing a range of resources for teachers and researchers in the history of economics on our Center’s website. One section contains syllabi, discussion questions, examination questions, and course handouts, another shows the practices of documentary research in the history of economics, and a third provides lectures that we have taped on a variety of subjects. As noted earlier, the annual meeting of the History of Economics Society will be held at Duke in 2016, and will begin the weekend that directly follows the summer institute. Institute scholars who wish to stay on for the meeting and see how historians of economics ply their trade will be encouraged to do so.




Participants will be sent a packet of materials in advance so that they can get started on their reading before coming to the Summer Institute.  As noted above, the schedule permits additional time for reading and study.

During the first week Bruce Caldwell will present a few lectures at lunchtime about some basic economic concepts and graphs. Attendance will be strictly voluntary. The intended audience is humanities professors who do not have much familiarity with economic concepts and jargon.  Caldwell (who will be in attendance all three weeks) and the visiting faculty will be available for consultations as appropriate throughout the Summer Institute. We also anticipate that informal discussions will spring up outside the seminar room.

There will be additional planned group activities, including a display and presentation by the Special Collections librarian on the Economists’ Papers Project (EPP) at Duke. The EPP houses an impressive collection of original documents, including the papers of eleven Nobel prize-winning economists and those of the American Economic Association.  Some social events (a Durham Bulls baseball game, a pool party) are planned as well.

The faculty who will lead discussions is a distinguished group. Institute Director Bruce Caldwell is also the Director of the Center for the History of Political Economy and directed the two previous Summer Institutes. A former president of the History of Economics Society (HES), he is author of Hayek’s Challenge: An Intellectual Biography of F. A. Hayek, and serves as the General Editor of the book series, The Collected Works of F. A. Hayek.  

Angus Burgin is a history professor at Johns Hopkins University. His 2012 book on the Mont Pèlerin Society, The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets Since the Great Depression, received both the Merle Curti award from the Organization of American Historians and the HES best book award. He is currently writing an intellectual history of post-industrialism.

Duncan Foley is the Leo Model Professor of Economics at the New School for Social Research and an external professor at the Santa Fe Institute.  He is the author of numerous books, among them Understanding Capital: Marx’s Economic Theory and Adam’s Fallacy: A Guide to Economic Theology.  

Craufurd Goodwin, now emeritus, was the James B. Duke Professor of Economics at Duke. He served for forty years as the editor of History of Political Economy, the premier journal in the field. Craufurd is a former president as well as Distinguished Fellow of the HES, and is the author most recently of Walter Lippmann: Public Economist, which was published in 2014 by Harvard University Press.

Thomas “Tim” Leonard is a research scholar at the Council of the Humanities at Princeton University and a lecturer in the economics department. Tim has written extensively on the role of American economists in Progressive era and is the author of the much acclaimed book Illiberal Reformers: Race, Eugenics and American Economics in the Progressive Era, which was published in 2016 by Princeton University Press.

Steve Medema is an economics professor at University of Colorado Denver. He served for ten years as the editor of the Journal for the History of Economic Thought. Medema is an editor of a three volume collection of classic articles by Chicago school economists titled Chicago Price Theory, and his book on market failure, The Hesitant Hand, won the ESHET best book award in 2010. A former president of the HES, he was a visiting faculty member at the 2010 NEH summer institute. 

Edward Nik-Khah is an economics professor at Roanoke College. He has written extensively on the role of George Stigler in forming the Chicago school of economics and in promoting neoliberalism. Recent work looks at the relationship between neoliberalism and “economics imperialism.” In 2011-2012 he was a Fellow at the Center for the History of Political Economy. 

Maria Pia Paganelli is an economics professor at Trinity University in San Antonio and an editor of The Oxford Handbook of Adam Smith. In fall 2014 she was a Fellow at the Center for the History of Political Economy, where she worked on an invited article on Smith and the Scottish Enlightenment for the journal History of Political Economy

Nick Phillipson is an Honorary Research Fellow in History at the University of Edinburgh, where he taught from 1965 until his retirement in 2004. He has held visiting appointments at Princeton, Yale, the Folger Library, and the Ludwig-Maximillian Universität. A leading scholar of the Scottish Enlightenment, he is the author of Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life

Bart Wilson holds the Donald P. Kennedy Endowed Chair in Economics and Law at Chapman University’s Economic Science Institute. An experimental economist, Bart’s recent research tests certain of Adam Smith’s theories of human nature, as found in his Theory of Moral Sentiments.  He also uses laboratory experiments to explore the formation of markets and property rights systems.


NEH Summer Scholars will be provided with single, air-conditioned rooms, with linens, towels, and washcloths, on west campus at Duke. We do not know the exact charge yet but anticipate it will be in the $800-900 range for the entire stay. For those who wish to stay off campus, the University Inn and Brookwood Inn have rooms available for about $75 a night. These Inns are about a twenty minute walk from campus. Passes for parking on campus are available at $10 a week. There are many places to eat on campus and off. All participants will be able to use the libraries and will have complimentary wireless access to the internet via the Duke system while on campus.

            Participation is limited to twenty-five applicants. Three spaces will be reserved for qualified graduate students in economics or the humanities. Applicants who are selected to participate in the Summer Institute will be paid a stipend of $2700, half payable on arrival at the Institute, and the other half payable in the final week of the program.  Stipends are considered taxable income. Participants who, for any reason, do not complete the full tenure of the project must refund a pro-rata portion of the stipend. 

If you wish to apply, application information and guidelines may be found in the other attachment. Your completed application should arrive no later than March 1, 2016 and be submitted by e-mail attachment to Angela.Zemonek@duke.edu. Perhaps the most important part of the application is the essay of no more than four double-spaced pages. This essay should include your reasons for applying to the Institute; your relevant personal and academic information; what you hope to accomplish; and the relation of your study to your teaching.

            I hope that you will agree that those of us who are organizing the Summer Institute have put together an intellectually stimulating program. We look forward to your application.



Bruce Caldwell

Research Professor of Economics

Director, NEH Summer Institute on “The History of Political Economy”

Director, Center for the History of Political Economy