Published by EH.NET (August 2008)

John S. Lyons, Louis P. Cain and Samuel H. Williamson, editors, Reflections on the Cliometrics Revolution: Conversations with Economic Historians. New York: Routledge, 2008. xiv + 491 pp. $160 (hardback), ISBN: 978-0-415-70091-7.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Michael Haupert, Department of Economics, University of Wisconsin?La Crosse.

A better set of editors could not have been selected for the assemblage of this volume. John Lyons, Lou Cain and Sam Williamson certainly know the story of cliometrics. All three have extensive experience in the running of the Cliometric Society and deep roots in the annual conferences. Williamson was the original executive director of the society, PI for the NSF grant, and editor of the association?s newsletter; Cain and Lyons were associate editors for the newsletter during Williamson?s term; and Williamson and Cain were among the earliest attendees at the annual Clio meetings, then known as the Conference on the Application of Economic Theory and Quantitative Methods, held on the Purdue University campus.

There is little new here, with the bulk of the text consisting of reprints of the ever popular newsletter interviews. Having said that, there is little else with which to find fault in this effort. The hefty price tag will unfortunately deter many potential buyers, but the volume does pull together a nice selection of the interviews along with a well researched history of the cliometrics revolution and economic history in general. All in all the value added by the editors to the interviews is considerable.

The bibliography alone, stretching nearly forty pages, makes this book a worthy addition to any economic historian?s library. It is a reference of every fundamental building block of economic history and every serious study of the role, evolution, and critical review of the discipline of economics from a historical perspective.

The interviews themselves have little new material, but pulling them all together is a valuable contribution. They are not merely the first several published in the newsletter. Rather, they represent a carefully selected collection, logically organized to help tell the story of the ?new economic history? revolution that changed the face of the discipline and spawned a generation of cliometricians.

The interviews are not all reproduced verbatim. Some have been updated with recent additions by the subjects. However, these are few in number and for the most part update the reader on what he or she probably already knew: the recent research interests of the subjects.

After a concise but thorough history of the discipline of economic history, the interviews are organized into chapters that detail the revolution that became cliometrics. The editors start with a recognition of the preconditions for the new economic history. In ?Before the New Economic History: North America? and its companion chapter for Great Britain, we meet the forefathers in interviews with the likes of Walt Rostow, Moses Abramovitz and Phyllis Deane. These are followed with a chapter focusing on the acknowledged elders of cliometrics, Douglass North and William Parker. There are separate chapters of interviews focusing on the cradle of clio at Purdue (Lance Davis, Jonathan Hughes and Nate Rosenberg), as well as the workshops of two of the most heralded economic historians, Simon Kuznets and Alexander Gerschenkron. Finally, there is a chapter focusing on noted expatriates R.M. Hartwell, Eric Jones and Charles Feinstein. Each of these chapters of interviews is preceded by an introductory chapter that sets the interviewees? contributions to economic history, and the cliometric revolution in particular, in context. Patrick K. O?Brien then provides a critical but fair appraisal of the achievements and shortcomings of cliometrics to round off the story.

When it is all added together, we have a book that, while mostly reprinted material from the Newsletter of the Cliometric Society, still makes a worthwhile contribution. The bringing together and organizing of the interviews in a logical order is of itself a value, especially to younger scholars looking to get a sense of the history of the discipline, or more seasoned economic historians looking to refresh their memories. The most important contribution made by Reflections on the Cliometrics Revolution is the perspective it provides on the discipline from the viewpoints of some of its major contributors.

Lyons, Cain and Williamson are to be commended for their efforts. The organization and compilation of this material has brought together for the first time the necessary ingredients for telling the story of the growth of our discipline. If you haven?t spent time meeting your intellectual ancestors, this is the perfect opportunity to do so.

Mike Haupert (University of Wisconsin?La Crosse) was editor of the Newsletter of the Cliometric Society from 2000-08 and recently succeeded Lee Craig as the Executive Director of the Cliometric Society.