The past’s long shadow: A network analysis of economic history

Historians in the News
tags: economic history

Gregori Galofré Vilà, Universitat Pompeu Fabra and Barcelona Institute of Political Economy and Governance

A crucial discipline for understanding how our past was shaped by economic trends and forces, economic history also informs our thinking about present and future economic realities (Abramitzky 2015, Diebolt and Haupert 2018, Eichengreen 2018, Margo 2018). Because it has enormous potential to contribute to debates in economics and public policy, it is a matter of great interest to elucidate how this area of academic inquiry has evolved, in terms of its central debates and publishing trends. 

Using details from articles published since 1980 in the eight main journals in economic history (Table 1), in this column I review the development of the discipline with a network analysis that maps out disciplinary silos in authorship and areas of inquiry (Galofré-Vilà 2020). Although journals in economics, demography, and sociology also publish the findings of economic historians,1 I focus on papers published by the top economic history journals, namely, those publishing articles that capture the main debates and interests in the research area under scrutiny here.

Figure 1 shows the relatedness among research fields in economic history. Network analysis is based on the assumption that authors cited together share some intellectual affinity; a network map captures how authors (and, consequently, the ideas and debates associated with them) sit in relation to each other across the field. In the network map, bubble sizes (nodes) correspond to the number of citations received by each author, while the distance between bubbles corresponds to the tendency for authors to be cited together within articles. Clusters (represented by different colours) group together bubbles (authors) that display some degree of similarity in research topics or debates.


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