Andrej Svorencik, 2012-13 HOPE Center Research Fellow


When I sat down to interview 2012–13 fellow Andrej Svorencik for this profile, he remarked that it felt unusual to be on the receiving end of an interviewer’s questions. After all, for the past three years, Andrej has gotten quite used to being the one to ask questions and draw out answers; since 2009 he has been engaged in an exciting oral history project that has seen him travel to the United States, Holland, and Germany to interview experimental economists about their work and about the development of the field and method of experimental economics.

He’s interviewed more than forty so far, including those whose papers are part of the Economists’ Papers Project at Duke such as Jim Friedman, Martin Shubik, Al Roth, and Vernon Smith. With practice, the interviews have gotten easier—“at least, I think so,” says Andrej, who is a PhD student at the University of Utrecht. “I’m asking the right questions now, and I’m better prepared for the unexpected.”

Speaking of the unexpected, Andrej’s very first interview, with Matt Spitzer, immediately tested his ability to go with the flow. It was the summer of 2009. Andrej was poking around Caltech, a pioneering center of experimental economics, on whose faculty were a few experimental economists as well as Matt Spitzer, a lawyer who had done some work in experimental economics.

“I wasn’t really looking to interview anyone at that very moment,” Andrej says. “I was instead just working my courage up. Besides, Spitzer was on sabbatical, so there was no way I’d run into him anyway.”

Famous last words! Much to Andrej’s surprise, he noticed that Spitzer’s office door was open.

“What did you do?” I asked Andrej.

“What could I do? I knocked on his door. It turned out that he was in Pasadena for that day only, back for a family emergency. I told him what I do for research, and he said, ‘Now’s your only chance: we can talk now.’ I didn’t expect to interview someone so quickly.”

A fellow of the Center for the second time, Andrej’s main focus this time is writing rather than gathering materials. He’s here to write several chapters of his dissertation, which he hopes to complete in 2013. The topic, as you might have guessed, is experimental economics, which has received only cursory attention from historians of economics. His work will document what Andrej calls the experimental turn in economics, how economics changed into an experimental science.

“Being here, at Duke, in the Triangle, contributes to the writing process,” Andrej says. “There is a pleasing genius loci, a spirit here, that animates my writing. And the library system—it’s remarkable. Within a day I can get any book I need from Duke or one of the other area libraries.”

Andrej will return to Utrecht in January.