Textbooks as Data for the Study of the History of Economics: Lowly Beast or Fruitful Vineyard?
Steven G. Medema
University of Colorado Denver - Department of Economics
September 12, 2011
Historians of economics have paid minimal attention to the diffusion of economic ideas in the textbook literature. Given the low esteem in which textbooks are held as embodiments of scholarship and the propensity of historians of economics - and intellectual historians generally - to focus on the production of scholarship through more lofty venues such as journal articles and scholarly books, this lack of attention to the textbook literature is in some ways understandable. This paper attempts to make the case that the textbook literature constitutes an incredibly rich data source for the historian of economics. In doing so, it draws illustrations from the treatment of the Coase theorem in the textbooks, with a view both to showing how the textbook literature enhances our understanding of the diffusion of economic ideas and how attempts by authors to grapple with new ideas in the context of the textbook literature can result in divergences between how these ideas are treated in the scholarly and textbook literatures.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 32
Keywords: Coase theorem, textbooks
JEL Classification: B00, A00working papers series
Date posted: September 13, 2011
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