History of Political Economy

The history of political economy generally seeks to explain the historical dynamics that determine the global production, distribution, and consumption of wealth across time. Political economy is a broad field of inquiry, with a tradition that reaches back before modern academic specialization and the separation of disciplines into departments. Therefore, historians of political economy use many methods, seek consistently to place economic life in context, and pay persistent attention to questions of power, social relations, and meaning.

Chicago has an unusual number of faculty members and graduate students working in the history of political economy. There are department members who focus on every period between the ancient and the contemporary. They conduct research on Africa, China, Europe, India, and North and South America. Many are engaged in questions of global and transnational history, as well as questions of theory.

Within our community of inquiry, there are currently core groups of faculty and graduate students working on common thematic interests, many of which intersect:

  • The historical relationship between the economy, the environment, and anthropogenic climate change.
  • The role of the state and the law in conditioning economic life.
  • The centrality of gender and sex difference.
  • The historical and theoretical problem of capitalism.
  • The conceptual apparatus of economic history, including methods of quantification and modeling.
  • Issues of labor and inequality.
  • The histories of slavery, emancipation, and race and racism.