Economics 210a is required for first-year Ph.D. students in Economics here at Berkeley. The course introduces selected themes from the economic history literature but does not claim to present a narrative account of world economic history. Emphasis is placed on the uses of economic theory, and on the insights (if any) a knowledge of history can give to the practicing economist.
Requirements are: (i) doing the reading, (ii) attending the class, (iii) talking in class, and (iv) writing the papers. When the course goes well, it is primarily discussion; when the course goes badly, it is primarily lecture. Because discussion will focus on the issues raised, resolved, and left unanswered by the assigned readings, readings should be completed before class.
Grades will be based 40 percent on one to two-page memos due before each class meeting, 20 percent on class participation, and 40 percent on the research paper. Two- page memos cannot be exhaustive, nor can they provide definitive answers. But they can explain why the question asked is important, summarize how at least some of the articles assigned for the upcoming class approach it, and provide a provisional assessment of conclusions.
Your research paper is due on Wednesday, May 12th (that is, exactly one week after the last class meeting). The paper should provide new information or evidence on a topic in economic history. It should not simply summarize an existing literature. The writing and submission process requires that you meet two benchmarks. You should discuss your paper topic during office hours during the first half of the semester, and then submit a brief paper prospectus prior to the commencement of spring break. Your prospectus should motivate the topic (explain why it is important), state your hypothesis (or question), and describe the historical materials that you will use to analyze it. The grade you receive on your paper will depend also on the quality of the prospectus and on your meeting these two benchmarks.
This paper should go beyond summarizing or synthesizing a literature: students should use the tools of economic theory and empirical analysis to pose and answer an historical question. The paper must have historical substance. The paper may cover almost any topic in economic history. You are not limited to the material covered in 210a. The only requirement is that the topic must genuinely involve the past. Comparisons of past and current events are certainly fine, but studies of developments solely after 1973 are not. Aim at a length of 5 to 10 pages or so for the prospectus, and more for the final paper. A final paper less than 15 pages tends to make your instructor suspicious, while a final paper more than 25 pages tends to make your instructor cranky.
Coming up with a promising paper topic is part of this exercise. Your entire graduate career (indeed, for most of you, your entire career) will center around identifying interesting questions to be answered. Successful papers in the past have generally come out of a comment on or an extension of an interesting paper assigned in this course (or one not assigned in this course); a comparison of some past episode with present; the finding of an interesting dataset; a new test of an old debate; or some historical natural experiment.
Readings are available on the web. Access to readings available through Jstor and other proprietary sources may require you to log on through a university-recognized computer and/or enter your Calnet ID.