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The Poverty of Clio

The Poverty of Clio: Resurrecting Economic History

Francesco Boldizzoni
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 228
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  • Book Info
    The Poverty of Clio
    Book Description:

    The Poverty of Cliochallenges the hold that cliometrics--an approach to economic history that employs the analytical tools of economists--has exerted on the study of our economic past. In this provocative book, Francesco Boldizzoni calls for the reconstruction of economic history, one in which history and the social sciences are brought to bear on economics, and not the other way around.

    Boldizzoni questions the appeal of economics over history--which he identifies as a distinctly American attitude--exposing its errors and hidden ideologies, and revealing how it fails to explain economic behavior itself. He shows how the misguided reliance on economic reasoning to interpret history has come at the expense of insights from the humanities and has led to a rejection of valuable past historical research. Developing a better alternative to new institutional economics and the rational choice approach, Boldizzoni builds on the extraordinary accomplishments of twentieth-century European historians and social thinkers to offer fresh ideas for the renewal of the field.

    Economic history needs to rediscover the true relationship between economy and culture, and promote an authentic alliance with the social sciences, starting with sociology and anthropology. It must resume its dialogue with the humanities, but without shrinking away from theory when constructing its models.The Poverty of Cliodemonstrates why history must exert its own creative power on economics.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3885-1
    Subjects: Economics, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Chapter 1 TRUTH ON THE CROSS Science and Ideology
    (pp. 1-17)

    In Greek mythology, Clio is the muse of both history and epic poetry. The verbkleiomeans to celebrate or extol, whilehistoriameans inquiry or investigation. In Herodotus, the combination of fabulous elements and concrete facts still reflects this ambiguity. Thucydides broke more decidedly with the traditional view by delivering a style of investigation that we today would call “positivistic,” even though he did not really consider himself as a historian but as a sort of political scientist.

    Time in antiquity passed at a somewhat slow pace, so that half a millennium later the Syrian-born Lucian could refer to...

    (pp. 18-53)

    A major misunderstanding about cliometrics comes from the subsequent spread of Douglass North’s new institutional approach. Unlike Fogel, North claims to have challenged traditional economic theory, which he found inadequate. Many think that this is the case, and North has used history to “humanize” economic theory. In fact, what he did was to extend the neoclassical explanatory model to the realm of social relations.

    North noticed the absence of institutions from standard economics and decided that they should have a part in it. But while he restored them to economic theory, he explained their genesis in terms of the same...

    (pp. 54-86)

    North’s approach has been influential. One might say that it has survived in Darwinian fashion, because nowadays hardly anybody still practices Fogel’s type of economic history.¹ The result is that cliometrics has evolved into a literary genre having little to do with numbers in the sense of econometric testing, though a lot to do with the deductive stance of the new institutional economics and of rational choice theory. At times these two approaches, which are not completely compatible, coexist even in the same author, giving rise to a sort of analytic schizophrenia. While the Northian approach admits the existence of...

  7. Chapter 4 THE WORLD WE HAVE LOST Microeconomic History
    (pp. 87-119)

    Is it possible to practice a different type of economic history from cliometrics, without lapsing into narrative history? The answer to the question is that it is. This chapter is the first of two that intend to show that a third way is possible and, indeed, was already being extensively applied in the second half of the twentieth century. It involves approaches that were molded in continental Europe but were not exclusive to Europe, and had theAnnalesschool as their catalyst but were not coincident with it.

    The following pages are concerned with an investigation of the past from...

  8. Chapter 5 THE WORLD WE HAVE LOST Macroeconomic Perspectives
    (pp. 120-137)

    In the middle of World War II, a few months before his tragic end, Marc Bloch wrote his historical testament:

    It is sometimes said: “History is the science of the past.” To me, this is badly put. For, to begin with, the very idea that the past as such can be the object of science is ridiculous. How, without preliminary distillation, can one make of phenomena, having no other common character than that of being not contemporary with us, the matter of rational knowledge? On the reverse side of the medal, can one imagine a complete science of the universe...

  9. Chapter 6 BUILDING ON THE PAST The Creative Power of History
    (pp. 138-172)

    One could say that in economic history there are, or have been, three coexisting approaches. The first relates to the traditional vision of the historical disciplines belonging to the humanities rather than to the social sciences. It gives mainly descriptive narratives that tend to be more source oriented than problem oriented. The second is apologetic and conceives history as an instrument for validating economic theories or assumptions about human nature. Ideas taken from economics and sometimes adapted from the natural sciences are then assumed as the starting point for historical research. This is the path followed by practitioners affiliated with...

  10. References
    (pp. 173-208)
  11. Index
    (pp. 209-216)