Textbooks as Data for the Study of the History of Economics: Lowly Beast or Fruitful Vineyard?

32 Pages Posted: 13 Sep 2011

See all articles by Steven G. Medema

Steven G. Medema

Duke University - Department of Economics

Date Written: September 12, 2011

Abstract

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.

Keywords: Coase theorem, textbooks

JEL Classification: B00, A00

Suggested Citation

Medema, Steven G., Textbooks as Data for the Study of the History of Economics: Lowly Beast or Fruitful Vineyard? (September 12, 2011). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1926360 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1926360

Steven G. Medema (Contact Author)

Duke University - Department of Economics ( email )

213 Social Sciences Building
Box 90097
Durham, NC 27708-0204
United States

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