Economic History


(Monday, October 5, 2020)

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This assignment requires you to write a 6-10 page paper, including bibliography and references, on a topic in the history of economic thought.  The proposal, which includes the sources that you propose to consult, earns you up to five points, and is due by 9 AM on Monday, October 12.  The paper itself earns you up to twenty points, and is due by 9 AM on Monday, November 16.  Together the proposal and the research paper itself are worth 25% of the final grade.  N.B.  The proposal is not a summary of the paper.  You don’t write the paper until after I have approved your proposal!


What topic should you choose?

Whatever you want—so long as it is on some aspect of the history of economic thought, including

  • The life and work of one particular economist who did most or all of his/her work prior to 1939 (e.g., Adam Smith or J. M. Keynes) or other writer on economics (provided he or she made a significant contribution to the debate, e.g., Bernard Mandeville).
  • A school of thought in one country (e.g., institutional economics in the U.S.).
  • Some combination of the two—an economist and a school of thought (e.g., Knut Wicksell and the Swedish school of economics).
  • The development of economics in one particular country over a period of time (e.g., economic science in the U.S. during the Progressive Era, approximately 1890 to 1920).
  • The development of an approach over a period of time (e.g., the marginalist revolution from 1871 to 1914—or you might wish to include precursors like William Forster Lloyd).
  • The development of a concept (e.g., division of labor, from Antiquity to Adam Smith and beyond, or the theory of comparative cost (comparative advantage), associated with James Mill, Robert Torrens, David Ricardo, and John Stuart Mill).
  • How atopic has been discussed and analyzed by economists (e.g., slavery, land, intellectual property, profit, high wages), and you would likely set start and finish dates for the discussion (e.g., slavery from Adam Smith to John Stuart Mill, economic thought and the Irish question, 1817-1870, what economists had to say about British rule in India, or underconsumptionist theories from Mandeville to Keynes), including a topic specifically to do with economic policy (e.g., the tariff question in U.S. history—tariffs for protection or tariffs for revenue).
  • How anevent has been discussed and analyzed by different economists (e.g., the Great Depression by F. A. Hayek of the Austrian school and J. M. Keynes of the UK Cambridge school).

Be advised that you may not choose an economist whose work was mainly or entirely after the Second World War, or an event that occurred after the Second World War—so no Milton Friedman or Great Recession—or a topic that only arose after that war—so no Internet.  And, although it is important to describe the historical context in which your chosen economist is writing, remember that you are not writing a paper in economic history, but in the history of economic thought.  My advice would be to choose a topic that is narrow and focused—not broad and diffuse.  If you’re in any doubt about what would make a suitable topic for your term paper, contact me!


How to research the topic

To get you started, consult Alessandro Roncaglia’s A Brief History of Economic Thought (2107).

Then then check out the resources in Online Resources: An Introduction (revised 10.04.2020).  (I sent you the first version at the beginning of the semester.)

(Don’t rely on OneSearch, the search engine on our library website.)

And it’s okay to use discriminating and thoughtful use of websites containing worthwhile material (but be sure to cite correctly what you find—full URL and date visited).

And if you’re not making progress, contact me!


Instructions for writing the paper


The paper should be typed in Times New Roman 12-point font (and use italic, bold or underline sparingly) and double-spaced (like this sentence).

The paper should be 1500-2500 words in length (not including the bibliography) with one-inch margins top and bottom, left and right.  Your full name and the word count (not including the bibliography) should appear on the cover sheet.  Large, clearly labeled diagrams may be used where appropriate.  A bibliography and/or references typed in a consistent format should be included at the end of the paper.  A 1500-2500 word paper (not including a cover sheet, diagrams, and bibliography) would fill 5-8 pages depending on the spacing between paragraphs.  Papers that are too short will lose points.  And papers that exceed 2500 words had better be worth reading!


All communications regarding your research paper should be sent to <>



You are strongly encouraged to discuss your proposal with me, and you are welcome to run a draft paper by me.  Please submit your draft as an attachment to an email by 9:00 AM by Monday, November 2, (to be returned by Monday, November 9).  The paper itself is due by 9:00 AM on Monday, November 16.(In due course you will be told how to load the final version onto Canvas.)  And you will lose points if you are late in submitting your paper.


Help is available!

If you experience any difficulty in completing this assignment, please do not hesitate to ask me for help.

The SJSU Writing Center is also here to help you:


Honor code

The university regards cheating and plagiarizing as serious offenses against the honor code and I shall not hesitate to enforce the rules.  Students are recommended to consult the appropriate section of the honor code.

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