Economic History Holds Top Rank Across Nation
The discipline of economic history has made a name for itself at UC Davis. Ranked fourth among other top research universities (econphd.net) such as Stanford, Harvard, MIT and UC Berkeley, UC Davis’ program is on the rise.
National rankings take many qualities into consideration including prominence, faculty, and publications produced by the department. Economic historian and Associate Professor Chris Meissner attributed much of the success of economic history at UC Davis to the department’s atmosphere.
“All of our colleagues get along extremely well, UC Davis is known for that,” said Meissner. “We’re all very supportive of each other. The doors to faculty offices here are open most of the time-we see each other much more than faculty at other universities.”
Economic historians like Meissner do two things: interpret history using the tools of modern economics, and utilize historical episodes and data to develop those tools themselves. Economic history is thus concerned both with understanding the past, and with understanding the present and future. Thus Alan Olmstead recently published an article in The National Academy of Science on the likely effects of global warming on future US food production.
UC Davis is fortunate to have many of the most respected and brilliant minds in economic history as devoted members of faculty. Many of these academic personalities are responsible for the growth of economic history not only at UC Davis but across the nation.
“Alan Olmstead and Peter H. Lindert are two long term faculty members that have greatly contributed to the success of economic history at UC Davis,” said Greg Clark professor of economics and president of the All-UC Group in Economic History. “They recruited me from Michigan, we hired Alan Taylor who had alternative opportunities at Maryland and Ohio State, and then together we persuaded Chris Meissner from Cambridge to join us at UC Davis.
Clark’s current project involves using English records based on surnames dating back to the Norman Conquest of 1066 to argue that contrary to widespread opinion, England has never had a persistent ruling social class. Complete social mobility occurs over the long run in such societies. His approach will lead to a better understanding of both English economic history and also the forces that even now create and block social mobility.
The Journal of Economic History publishes rankings based on number of pages produced by economic historians from varying institutions and UC Davis routinely occupies the top position. In 2002 Clark ranked 2nd in the entire history of the journal and Olmstead ranked 13th. Based on production over the past eight years, in the next ranking Clark and Olmstead will most likely rank 2nd and 3rd for pages published in their lifetime. In a separate ranking from the REPEC website, Alan M. Taylor is ranked in the top 2% of economists, Clark and Lindert and Olmstead are ranked in the top 10 %, and Meissner ranks in the top 12 % of economists.
The community of economic historians at UC Davis has also used their research and academic opinions in the efforts of public service. Their research has been used to advise The World Bank as well as the International Monetary Fund. Their work has been featured by major news organizations such as The New York Times, Newsweek, The San Francisco Chronicle, Financial Times, The Guardian, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal and many more.
The All-UC Group has been very instrumental in the success of research and teaching at UC Davis as well as throughout California. Founded in 1972, the All-UC Group in Economic History has served to encourage research and academic discussion in economic history across all the UC campuses.
As current president of the All-UC Group, Clark sees the organization as a great benefit to UC Davis and the California community. “California has really become a hotbed of activity for economic history,” said Clark. “As well as the UC campuses, Stanford University, Caltech, and the University of Santa Clara all maintain strong research groups in Economic History. They connect through the All-UC group, and this makes California an attractive place for people interested in these issues.”
Clark went on to note that in light of the recent economic collapse there has been a renewed interest in economic history. “Economics in general has become highly abstract and theoretical. Yet despite its complex technical apparatus, few economists foresaw the economic collapse that just occurred,” said Clark. “Even now no one seems to know how to get out of it quickly. There is a crisis of confidence in modern abstract economics because of what happened, and a revitalized interest in the study of economic history as providing more useful insight into real world economics.”
Undergraduates and graduate students at UC Davis regularly fill economic history courses to capacity. The discipline’s relation to current economic conditions remains a draw for students and faculty. “The courses offered at UC Davis in economic history frequently provide insight on the causes of the Great Depression and other financial crises and well as providing original views into what makes some countries so rich while others remain so poor,” said Meissner. Meissner also noted that in addition to the regularly offered courses in economic history, UC Davis consistently hosts research seminar series.
“These seminar series are about inviting scholars from all around the world to present their research,” said Meissner. “This is a crucial component to running a top research department, UC Davis does this and it is extremely beneficial to both faculty and students. Another benefit, perhaps one of the most important during these economic conditions, is that we need a continuing and solid commitment of the university to maintain our international reputation.”
- Article by Carly Haase, student marketing intern for the College of Letters and Science