The New Generation

(American Historicists)

The Johns Hopkins University - hall, 1885

The "New Generation" is often used to refer to generation of American economists in the 1870s-90s, who had gone for further education abroad in Europe, notably in German universities, where they were heavily influenced by the German Historical School.  They also drew influence from budding English Historicists

The "New Generation" were instrumental in the foundation of a wave of new German-style research universities in the United States, such as Johns Hopkins (f.1876), Stanford (f.1885), Chicago (f.1892) and others, and also supplied faculty for older established universities (e.g. . Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Wisconsin), helping shift them decisively in a more research-oriented direction. The American Economic Association (AEA), founded in 1885, was established by the New Generation economists on the model of the German Verein für Socialpolitik.

With their Historicist background, the New Generation did not shy away from direct confrontation with Classical and then Neoclassical economics, although their real targets were the plethora of apologists that dominated the American academic scene. Deploring the the universalist pretensions of much of economic theory, they stressed the importance of historical, social and institutional factors which make so-called economic "laws", contingent on these factors. Much of everything in the economic world, they argued, was not immutable but rather conditioned by the influence of an always changing history - whether acting on the individual directly, or indirectly through the institutions and society which surround him.

This confrontation resulted in some famous methodological battles, e.g. publicly in the pages of Science magazine in 1885-86, and internally between Richard T. Ely and Simon Newcomb at Hopkins.

The New Generation eventually evolved into the American Institutionalist School.

The "New Generation" also impelled the creation of new journals for the dissemination of research.  Early American economists had published in a variety of literary reviews, most notably the North American Review (f. 1824), the New Englander & Yale Review (f.1843) and the International Review (1874-83), and also occasionally in magazines like Science,  Bankers' Magazine, Harper's, Lippincott's and the Atlantic Monthly.  In 1882, Johns Hopkins began putting out monographs and articles in the series The Johns Hopkins University Studies in Historical and Political Science.  In 1886, three American economics journals came out - the Quarterly Journal of Economics (QJE) from Harvard, the Political Science Quarterly (PSQ) of Columbia and the Publications of the American Economic Association (proto-AER).  They were joined by the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (Pennsylvania) in 1890, and the Journal of Political Economy (JPE) of the University of Chicago, in 1892.





Resources on American Historicism

  • "The New Political Economy", 1886, The Century [moa]
  • "The Reform in Higher Education" by an American Graduate, 1876, International Review, p.289 (on German vs. American universities)
  • "American Colleges and German Universities", by Richard T. Ely, 1880, Harper's, p.253 [moa]
  • "An Experiment in College Government",  by John M. Gregory, 1881, International Review, p.510 (on Illinois State)
  • "A National University", by Charles F. Thwing, 1882, International Review, p.527
  • "Admission of Women to Universities" by Florence Kelley, 1883, International Review, p.130
  • "What the Tariff Laws have Done for Us", by John Roach, 1882, International Review, p.455; also "Decline of American Shipping" by John Roach, p.533
  • "American Economists of Today" by A.F. Weber, 1899, New England Magazine [moa]
  • "The Economic Man", by E. L. Godkin, 1893, North American Review [moa]
  • "The Historical Approach to Economics", by Isaac A. Loos, 1918, AER
  • "The Psychological Basis for the Economic Interpretation of History" by William F. Ogburn, 1919, AER
  • "The Psychological Basis for the Economic Interpretation of History: Comment" by Frank A. Fetter, 1919, AER
  • "Scientific Schools" in Kibble's Cyclopedia of Education, 1883
  • "Germany archives" at Irwin Collier's Economics in the Rear-view Mirror blog.


All rights reserved, Gonçalo L. Fonseca


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