Study of Economic History to Grow With New Grant

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The UC Berkeley Department of Economics will soon begin utilizing a $1.25 million grant awarded Oct. 15 to fund the development of a new economic history laboratory that will support research into past economic downturns to prevent future crises.

The Institute for New Economic Thinking allotted UC Berkeley professor of economics and political science Barry Eichengreen the funding to establish a Berkeley Economic History Laboratory, aiming to produce economists well-versed in economic history and capable of influencing current policy debate.

"It took the most serious financial crisis in 80 years, unfortunately, to remind economists of the value of historical knowledge and analysis," Eichengreen said in a statement by the institute. "We now need to capitalize on that awareness by increasing the supply of young scholars with historical training and skills who can contribute to the debate over economic and financial reform."

According to the institute, Eichengreen plans to use the funding for graduate students and postdoctoral fellowships in economic history and to attract additional Ph.D. candidates to the field, hoping to triple the annual output of UC Berkeley Ph.Ds specializing in economic history. The allocation of the funds is explicitly outlined in the proposal, guaranteeing support for dissertations, seminar series, traveling fellowships and archival work all in the field of economic history.

Smaller grants will be provided for archival visits and the digitization of historical data.

The larger purpose of the lab is to produce change in the field of economics by making it a more fundamentally historical, institutional and empirical social science, according to Eichengreen's proposal.

The grant is the largest of 30 inaugural grants awarded this year by the institute, according to Executive Director Robert Johnson. The New York based grant program - founded in October 2009 from a $50 million pledge by businessman and philanthropist George Soros - is a response to the current economic crisis and aims to support new economic thinking that could change current debate and prevent future crises.

"It was one of our priorities to have a program vigorous in economic history, and the quality of faculty who submitted the application, all who have strong histories of teaching economic history, give us great confidence," Johnson said.

Johnson said UC Berkeley's large group of enthusiastic graduate students interested in research and postdoctorate fellowships in economic history outnumbered graduate students at other universities.

"People on the East Coast always talk about the lack of quality and moral relevance at Berkeley," Johnson said. "But it is Berkeley who is using economic history to bear on contemporary problems. I can't think of a better place on the planet than Berkeley for economic history right now."


Contact Kate Lyons at [email protected]

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