MIT's Rise to Prominence: Outline of a Collective Biography
The core question of MIT Economics Department’s history – why has MIT economics risen to prominence so quickly – requires an approach to history of economics that focuses on the role of the networks within which economists operate, their ideas diffuse, and gain scientific credit. By reconstructing the network of MIT economics Ph.Ds. and their advisors, this paper furnishes not just evidence of how MIT rose to prominence as documented by the numerous ties of Nobel Laureates, Clark Medalists, elected officials of the AEA or the Council of Economic Advisors to the MIT network. The MIT Economics Department is also revealed as a community of self-replicating economists who are to a large extent trained by a few key advisers who were mostly trained at MIT as well. MIT exhibits a large share of graduates who remain in American academia that is disproportionate to the number of graduates it has produced. It is hypothesized that this has been an important factor in MIT’s rise to prominence. On a methodological level this paper introduces prosopography or collective biography, a well-established historiographic method, to the field of history of economics.
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