Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Levy, Lester S. (Professor of economics)||Gherity, James A.

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of Economics


Economic history--1750-1918


The latter part of the nineteenth century was a very significant period for the study.of economics within the American academic community. Prior to the 1870's, the study of economics was usually only a small part of the moral philosophy course, and in general the American academic community held very closely to what they believed to be the English classical tradition. During the 1880's and 1890's the situation changed radically along the following lines: (there was an increase in the creativity and vitality of American economic thought, (2) economics was established as appreciation of American economic thought in Europe. Concurrently with this new creativity and vitality a large number of American students returned to the United States from Germany with advanced academic training and degrees. The simultaneous existence of these two events provided the basis of this thesis in the form of two primary questions. (1) Did the Introduction of new ideas and concepts, as represented by the German historical school, play any great role in the new creativity which took place in American economic thought? (2) What role did the American environment play in the changes which took place in American economic thought, and how was the environment influential, if at all, in the conflict which took place between the supporters of the classical approach? An analysis of American economic thought at the turn of the century showed that the historical school did not have any major effect upon the scope, method, and philosophical basis of economics. However, the supporters of the historical approach did have the effect of causing many American economists to diversify their scientific study. This was done by introducing new realms of interests for the academic economist, such as public finance, railroads, agriculture, labor, and the history and significance of technology and legal relations. It was also found that the social, political, economic, and intellectual environment of the 1880's played a significant role in the conflict which occurred between the supporters of the "new school" and the supporters of the "old school." Not only did the American environment of the 1880’s play a significant role in determining the type of reception that the ideas of the "new school" received in America, but it was found that the changes in the environment, and not the internal weaknesses of the historical approach, were the dominant factors which eventually led to the rejection of the historical approach at the turn of the century. The major approach used in writing this thesis was an analysis of the published writings of the academic economists living during the various periods. The period from 1865 to 1876 is covered in Chapter Two, while the period from 1876 to 1900 is covered in Chapter Three. Chapter Four presents the position of the German historical school, and also investigates the role of the environment in the development of economic theory. In Chapter Five, an analysis is made of American economic thought at the turn of the century, and explanation for the rejection of the historical school's ideas is also offered.


Includes bibliographical references.


vi, 126 pages




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