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The Institutional Approach to Economic History: Connecting the Two Strands

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  • Richard N. Langlois

    (University of Connecticut)

Abstract

This essay examines the historiography of two episodes in history – the scattering of plots in the open fields in the Middle Ages and the transition to the factory system in the Industrial Revolution – to shed light on the uses of institutional economics in economic history. In both of these episodes, economic "just-so" stories advanced our understanding of history. What animated intellectual innovation in both cases was a bold conjecture about the raison d’être of a puzzling institutional structure. But what ultimately enriched our understanding was the process of conjecture and revision those conjectures set off. In both episodes, the revised conjectures that best withstood criticism and revision were those that saw the phenomena not as static snapshots of economic agents confronting an economic problem but rather those that embedded the phenomena within a larger economic problem and within a process of economic change. In the end it is an account of institutional change – what I call the good old New Institutional Economics – that connects the use of institutional economics to explain puzzling historical phenomenon with the role of institutional economics in addressing the big questions of economic growth.

Suggested Citation

  • Richard N. Langlois, 2013. "The Institutional Approach to Economic History: Connecting the Two Strands," Working papers 2013-33, University of Connecticut, Department of Economics, revised Jun 2014.
  • Handle: RePEc:uct:uconnp:2013-33
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    institutions; institutional change; transaction costs; open-field system; factory system;

    JEL classification:

    • B52 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Current Heterodox Approaches - - - Historical; Institutional; Evolutionary
    • D02 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Institutions: Design, Formation, Operations, and Impact
    • D23 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations - - - Organizational Behavior; Transaction Costs; Property Rights
    • N01 - Economic History - - General - - - Development of the Discipline: Historiographical; Sources and Methods
    • N53 - Economic History - - Agriculture, Natural Resources, Environment and Extractive Industries - - - Europe: Pre-1913
    • N63 - Economic History - - Manufacturing and Construction - - - Europe: Pre-1913

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