Post contributed by Vincent Carret, Part-time Research Scholar for the Economists’ Papers Archive and Visiting Scholar at the Center for the History of Political Economy.
The Leonid Hurwicz papers are now fully reopened for research as part of the Economists’ Papers Archive. Over the past few months, the bulk of the 252-box collection has been reprocessed by inventorying, describing, and rearranging its contents, in particular the now distinct Research and Writings series. The following blog post describes Hurwicz’s professional trajectory, as it emerged from his papers, and outlines some files present in the collection.
Leonid Hurwicz was a Polish-American economist who immigrated to America in 1940 after fleeing Poland, which is documented in several folders. While Hurwicz never received a diploma in economics, he worked with and learned from some of the most recognized economists during the 1940s. When he arrived in the United States, Hurwicz joined the Cowles Commission for Research in Economics, which had just recently moved to Chicago. The Commission was the major driver in the development of econometrics, a new field of economic inquiry bringing together economic theory, mathematics, and statistics, and Hurwicz participated in the discussions surrounding the use of statistics in economics (collaborating for instance with Theodore Anderson).
At the end of the 1940s, the focus of the Cowles Commission turned to the theory of resource allocation, a field of economics inquiring into the best use of scarce resources in interdependent economic systems. Hurwicz, who was recruited by Walter Heller at the University of Minnesota in 1951, followed this shift. His work during the 1950s focused on the study of abstract market mechanisms, as documented in his collaborations with Kenneth Arrow and Hirofumi Uzawa. One question that became central to his work was the use of information in centralized and decentralized economic systems. Hurwicz built and studied economic models dealing with this problem, leading him to several long-standing collaborations with Thomas Marschak and Stanley Reiter.
During the 1960s, Hurwicz explored new ways of modeling the exchange of information, developing the concept of incentive compatibility to take into account individual agency in the distribution of information. His writings in the early 1970s document these new questions, Hurwicz’s answers, and the tools that he used, including game theory, which was also used to study different institutional arrangements. In the 1980s and 1990s, Hurwicz started working on a book collecting the state of the art on mechanism design, which brought together his interests in decentralization, information, incentives, and institutions. A highly formalized, mathematical endeavor, its theory and applications to auctions have led to several Nobel Prizes, including one for Hurwicz in 2007. His book, Designing Economic Mechanisms, coauthored with Stanley Reiter, was published in 2006.
Hurwicz’s success can be measured by the number of manuscripts preserved in his papers, his many correspondents, and the amount of working papers that he received from colleagues. His success also hinged upon his central place in the Department of Economics at the University of Minnesota, which became a powerhouse of economics in the 1970s-1980s.
Hurwicz’s work was abstract in a mathematical way, although always related to questions raised by changes in society. Among the most surprising items in the collection, perhaps attesting to Hurwicz’s ability to consider a problem under its most pure and abstract forms, I was amazed to find dozens of doodles that he made while taking notes. “Doodle” does not do justice to the intricate shapes, lines, circles, and points that make up these drawings. Seeing them next to the models and demonstrations that made up Hurwicz’s work, I was reminded of the Italian futurist movement and its celebration of the modern, industrial society. As I learned more about Hurwicz’s interests and work while processing his papers, these drawings became for me a metaphorical illustration of the mutation of economics from “political economy” to “economic science.”
Post contributed by Zachary Tumlin, Project Archivist for the Economists’ Papers Archive.
The Marc L. Nerlove papers are now open for research as part of the Economists’ Papers Archive, a joint venture between the Rubenstein Library and the Center for the History of Political Economy. Marc Leon Nerlove is a white American agricultural economist and econometrician who was awarded the John Bates Clark Medal from the American Economic Association (AEA) in 1969 and held appointments at eight different universities from 1958-2016: Johns Hopkins (where he earned his PhD), Minnesota, Stanford, Yale, Chicago (where he earned his BA), Northwestern, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. The Clark Medal is awarded to an economist under the age of 40 who “is judged to have made the most significant contribution to economic thought and knowledge,” and when the AEA appointed him as a Distinguished Fellow in 2012, they cited his development of widely used econometric methods across a range of subjects, including supply and demand, time series analysis, production functions, panel analysis, and family demography.
Nerlove was born and raised in Chicago and credits his father, S. H. (Samuel Henry) Nerlove, for his interest in economics. In addition to being a business economist at Chicago and a founding member of the Econometric Society (of which Marc would become President in 1981), S. H. “inadvertently” became the trustee of a large, bankrupt midwestern life insurance company in 1933 during the Great Depression. This company “held mostly foreclosed farm mortgages,” with the farms now being “operated by their former owners as tenants.” S. H. would share stories around the dinner table of his visits to these farms, since the family did not have one of their own in Hyde Park.
The Nerlove papers consist of 195 linear feet (137 boxes) of physical material and a little over 0.1 gigabytes of digital material that primarily document Nerlove’s professional life through his correspondence, writings, teaching, research, and professional service. Other economists who appear most frequently in the papers include Kenneth Arrow, José Carvalho (student), Carl Christ (dissertation supervisor), David Grether (student), Zvi Griliches, Lawrence Klein, Tjalling Koopmans, Ta-Chung Liu (teacher), Theodore Schultz (teacher), and Lester Telser. To a lesser extent, there is some correspondence, teaching material, and two writings from Milton Friedman (teacher) and one handwritten letter from John Nash.
One unique aspect of the collection is how much of it comes from others besides Nerlove. There are 134 files of teaching material from others, 228 files of dissertations, and 343 files of writings by others, compared to 143 and 421 files of his own teaching material and writings, respectively. Although his own files are richer, the files from others give us a sense of what was happening around him and his professional interests and network.
The teaching material from others was acquired from coworkers and professional colleagues for reasons such as Nerlove teaching/researching a similar course/subject or sent in exchange for his own teaching material. The dissertations are not only ones that Nerlove supervised or sat on the committee for, but that he received from his department for review as a faculty member, received from the author due to citation/similar research interest, or personally requested. While it is not unusual for there to be writings by others/reprint files, what was unusual was the quantity of them—they were originally around a quarter of the collection/90 linear feet and occupied 20 filing cabinets in a separate room on campus at Maryland. These files were thoroughly weeded to focus only on items with correspondence, annotations, or that appeared to be unpublished (primarily pre-1990).
Lastly, 11 items from these papers will occupy a large case in an upcoming exhibit on administrative assistants scheduled to be installed in the Michael and Karen Stone Family Gallery. These items are from the early 1970s and related to three of Nerlove’s secretaries at Chicago and Northwestern: Elizabeth “Betty” Ann Percell (1936-2005), Gloria Feigenbaum (1922-2006), and Stina Leander Hirsch (1919-2008). Such staff members have job duties that include basic records management—maintaining working files while they are still held by their creator before they are donated—and it is important to name them when they appear in the archival record because they are essential workers. A “good” secretary gives professors the ability to focus more on their research, and they make it easier for archivists to prepare these papers for long-term preservation (which ultimately benefits the archival user).
Post contributed by Zachary Tumlin (Project Archivist for the Economists’ Papers Archive), Andrew Armacost (Head of Collection Development), Laura Micham (Director of the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture), and Vincent Carret (2021-2022 HOPE Center Visiting Scholar and 2022 Summer in the Archives Fellow).
On Monday, June 27th, around two dozen participants in the Center for the History of Political Economy’s (HOPE Center) 2022 Summer Institute met with four staff members from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library for a showing of items from the Economists’ Papers Archive (a joint venture between the HOPE Center and Rubenstein Library). The Summer Institute was started in 2010 with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and is a two-week long annual event that brings together faculty and PhD students in economics to examine various topics in the history of the field. This year’s focus was on preparing participants to design and teach their own undergraduate-level course on the history of economic thought, along with showing how such concepts and ideas might be introduced into other classes. The instructors were Duke faculty members Bruce Caldwell (HOPE Center Director), Steven Medema, and Jason Brent.
What follows are contributions from Andrew Armacost (Head of Collection Development), Laura Micham (Director of the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture), Zachary Tumlin (Project Archivist for the Economists’ Papers Archive), and Vincent Carret (2021-2022 HOPE Center Visiting Scholar and 2022 Summer in the Archives Fellow) about what they displayed during this event.
While many of the collections in the Economists’ Papers Archive relate to documenting the careers of individual economists, the archive also holds some related collections that offer a larger context for the history and range of work that encompasses this discipline.
Starting at the bottom right and going clockwise, one goal of the Archive is to chronicle the historical development of the field, and a key early work in this narrative is Adam Smith’s An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, published in 1776. This work explores the role of markets, international trade, and economic decision making. In it, Smith famously describes market forces acting as an “invisible hand” that guides economic decision making.
The Archive also holds organizational papers, including those of the American Economic Association (AEA; founded in 1885) and its journal American Economic Review. These papers represent more than a century of economic thought and the participation of a broad range of economists, and include correspondence from international economists like John Maynard Keynes, who corresponded on behalf of the Royal Economic Society.
The Archive also holds the papers of economists working in government, such as Federal Reserve Chairman Arthur Burns, who served during the Nixon administration. This collection preserves correspondence between the President and Chairman and their discussions related to economic policy and decisions related to the administration’s ending of the gold standard for US currency.
The Economists’ Papers Archive holds the papers of several prominent women economists, such as Anita Arrow Summers, Anna Schwartz, Juanita Morris Kreps, Charlotte Phelps, and Barbara Bergmann. Though these scholars emerged from a range of backgrounds and intellectual traditions, and each took different professional paths, they all seem to have been animated by an interest in living independent lives and a realization that financial independence was crucial to that goal.
During this event, I shared materials from each of these collections that offer a window into these women’s contributions to the field of economics and to society:
Bottom left: Professor Arrow Summers’s graduate student work during the mid-1940s in the University of Chicago Economics Department.
Bergmann’s archival collection consists of published writings, including congressional testimony, as well as research and project files, and a selection of career awards and books from her library. One of the manuscripts included in the display is “A ‘cost-sharing’ formula for child support payments.” This undated piece was written in pencil on sheets from a legal pad, copiously revised, meticulously calculated, and thoroughly argued. She published several scholarly and journalistic articles on the topic of child support, some likely emerging from this piece, including an article co-authored with Professor Sherry Wetchler in Family Law Quarterly, Fall 1995, Vol. 29, No. 3, “Child Support Awards: State Guidelines vs. Public Opinion” [Duke NetID required for access].
Since I began in February, I have been processing a new acquisition: the Marc L. Nerlove papers. The papers primarily document the professional career of economist Marc Nerlove, who specializes in agricultural economics and econometrics (the use of economic theory, mathematics, and statistics to quantify economic phenomena). Upon his election to the AEA as a Distinguished Fellow in 2012, he was recognized for creating a widely used template having to do with the dynamics of agricultural supply, pioneering the development of modern time series methods and the analysis of panel data in econometrics, and being the first to apply duality theory to estimate production functions. During his 60-year career, he held appointments at Johns Hopkins, Minnesota, Stanford, Yale, Chicago, Northwestern, Pennsylvania, and Maryland; worked as a consultant at the World Bank, International Food Policy Research Institute, and RAND Corporation; and was awarded the 1969 John Bates Clark Medal from the AEA.
Like what Vincent will detail next about the highly influential economics department at Chicago, I chose material that showcases his own connections there:
Material related to his father, Samuel H. Nerlove, who came to the U. S. from Russia as a toddler in 1904 with his parents, who settled in Chicago; Samuel was a professor in business economics at Chicago from 1923-1965:
1939 syllabus for Business Economics 1.
1972 letter and eulogy from former student and then U. S. House Representative Sidney Yates.
Volume 22, number 2 of issues/ideas (Graduate School of Business magazine) from 1974, sent by Dean James Harper at the request of Nerlove’s mother Evelyn (with letter indicating this); includes article “Hunt’s ‘Why’ Unveiled” about unveiling of artist Richard’s Hunt sculpture “Why”, commissioned by the Samuel H. Nerlove Memorial Fund.
Material from his time as a student at Chicago and Johns Hopkins:
1953 letter from economist John Nash (subject of the book and filmA Beautiful Mind), apparently in response to a letter from Nerlove with a question about utility function.
Draft of introduction to Studies in the Quantity Theory of Money by Milton Friedman (published in 1956) and class notes for Friedman’s 1955 course on the same topic (including doddles of trains, a subject Nerlove would write about early in his career in the context of railroads).
Material from his time as a professor at Chicago from 1969-1974:
8×10 inch black and white headshot.
Letter from his secretary Gloria Feigenbaum upon his departure for Northwestern (pictued right), as well as a candid print of the two of them. Such staff maintained his on-campus files, which are now part of this archival collection, but these people can become invisible without thoughtful description. In this letter, she expresses how he had occasionally forgotten his purpose (research), interfered in matters that were her responsibility (administrative), and prevented her from exercising the degree of initiative that she was used to and capable of, but that she chosen to remain quiet to preserve their good working relationship.
Folder of early 1970s material from the Political Economy Club at Chicago (graduate student group). It includes three issues of their Journal of Progressive Hedonists Against Rational Thought (JPHART), a caricature of Nerlove that has him beside the White Rabbit and someone as Alice from one of his favorite books—Alice in Wonderland (these sketches appeared at the end of each issue of JPHART), a script of a skit set in the department that mentions Nerlove, and a copy of Sir Dennis H. Robertson’s poem “The Non-Econometrician’s Lament.”
What brings together Leonid Hurwicz, Paul Samuelson, Don Patinkin, and Oskar Lange? Apart from the fact that they were all major economists by any standard (two of them received the Nobel Prize), they were also all affiliated with the University of Chicago at some point.
In the material I presented, this connection is the link between them. Starting at the bottom right and going counterclockwise are a few of Patinkin’s student notebooks, of which there are dozens. At Chicago, Patinkin attended classes taught by the likes of Jacob Viner, Frank Knight, Jacob Marschak, and Oskar Lange—in particular, Lange’s course on Mathematical Economics and Stability Analysis held during the first half of the 1940s.
It was on this very subject of economic stability that Lange corresponded with Samuelson, who earned his undergraduate degree from Chicago. Their letters on the stability of an economic model called general equilibrium were exchanged in 1942, before Lange published his 1944 Cowles Commission monograph on Price Flexibility and Full Employment. These letters, shown here next to Patinkin’s notes, were duly kept by Samuelson and are now available in his collection of papers, rich in hundreds of folders of correspondence with almost every economist of the 20th century.
At one point in their correspondence, Samuelson asks Lange if he could name a few outstanding graduate students at Chicago, as he was looking for a new assistant. The first name on Lange’s list was that of Leonid Hurwicz, a young Polish immigrant who had arrived in Chicago at the beginning of the 1940s after fleeing Europe. Hurwicz became the assistant of Samuelson, now an Assistant Professor at MIT, in 1941, before coming back to Chicago to work in the Meteorology Department during the war. His papers, which I am currently reprocessing, trace his distinguished career at the University of Minnesota, where he stayed at for more than a half century after being recruited in 1951. For his creation of the field of mechanism design theory (the study of efficient allocation of resources), Hurwicz was jointly awarded the 2007 Nobel Prize at age 90.
In addition to Hurwicz’s correspondence and early manuscripts of his publications, I found in his papers the dissertation of Patinkin, which he annotated [this finding aid will be updated in September after reprocessing is completed]. Among Hurwicz’s many notes taken at seminars and conferences, one often finds more or less elaborate doodles—although the word doodle does not do justice to the intricacies of the abstract geometrical forms that are peppered throughout sixty years of thinking about economics!
We recently welcomed Zachary Tumlin as a new staff member in the Rubenstein Library’s Technical Services department! We asked Zachary a few questions to help us—and you—get to know him a little better.
I am currently processing the papers of Dr. Marc Nerlove, who concentrated on agricultural economics and econometrics. His collection was originally 206 boxes because he was active for 60 years before retiring from the University of Maryland, which is where I earned my graduate degree from. It was not until after I started this job that I learned that he lives in the same neighborhood that I just left, literally only a few minutes’ walk from door to door.
What did your path to becoming an archivist look like?
I am originally from West Virginia and earned my Bachelor of Music in Music Education from West Virginia University (WVU). I was a middle school band director in the state for three years but had a poor experience, and that combined with an autism diagnosis led me to reconsider my career goal to be a high school or college director of bands. I came across librarianship and specifically music librarianship online while exploring my options, and this reminded me of times when I managed sheet music collections for performing ensembles that I was a member or leader of (something I had done since high school).
I have been fortunate to have a large personal library since childhood, and I have always naturally been drawn towards preservation and systemization (I can access born-digital files dating back to elementary school assignments). How autism manifests itself in me combined with my personal characteristics make me well-suited for this field and there are others like me, whether they are out and proud all the way to not even suspecting that they might meet the diagnostic criteria.
Lastly, I have conducted geological research on my family and am a member of the National Society Sons of the American Revolution under two ancestors with others possible. I understand the importance of being able to document and share your story through records.
Tell us about the advocacy work that you do.
My self-advocacy is grounded in the fact that I am an adult diagnosed Autistic, but I also identify as neurodivergent and Disabled because of the need to not silo myself among others who have received the exact same diagnosis. My areas of emphasis include employment, policy and law, history and culture, education, and representation in media.
My initial goal was to connect with anyone and everyone on campus who is doing anything significant related to accessibility and Disability and get involved, so if I have not met you yet, please reach out!
What are you most looking forward to in your new job and in Durham?
First, my most recent job search lasted from January 2019 to December 2022 and totaled 645 applications, 84 screening calls or first round interviews, and six offers, so while my current position is only grant-funded for one year, it is still nice to be able to rest, even if only temporarily.
Second, I eventually narrowed my search to the Washington, DC metropolitan area (where I was still living) and North Carolina (where someone very important to me had relocated to). I needed to secure full-time employment and move closer, so I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity to prove myself and the Triangle feels like the best place for me in NC if I had to leave DC. I am looking forward to seeing Australian, Autistic comedian Hannah Gadsby at the Performing Arts Center in April.
Tell us something unique about yourself.
My primary instrument is trombone and at WVU I studied under professor Dr. H. Keith Jackson (now Dean of the College of Creative Arts). In my first semester, I saw (and recorded) him perform a theatre piece (a piece of music that includes directions more commonly seen in theatre—for staging, costuming, lighting, dialogue, movement, etc.). A couple years later, a doctoral student performed a different one (this one included prerecorded audio). Both instances motivated me to ask Dr. Jackson if I could continue this pattern and we agreed on “General Speech” (watch my performance on my YouTube channel). Afterwards, I gave a companion lecture on theatre pieces to the trombone studio, which is a kind of public speaking/presenting I do much more often now.
Thanks Zachary, and welcome to the Rubenstein Library! We’re glad to have you here.
Post contributed by Jonathan Cogliano, Assistant Professor for the Department of Economics at Dickinson College.
The Economists’ Papers Archive features collections from some of most influential economists of the post-war era, and among this impressive group are the recently re-processed papers of Kenneth J. Arrow (look for the new finding guide soon!). Arrow’s contributions to the field of economics are wide-ranging, notable among them are: his contributions to social choice theory—with the eponymous Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem—and welfare economics; his work with Gérard Debreu on the development of general equilibrium theory; the idea of learning-by-doing as a driver of economic growth and innovation; and the problems posed by asymmetries in information available to people when making economic decisions. Over his lifetime he received numerous awards for his work, including the John Bates Clark Medal (at the time, awarded biennially by the American Economic Association to the economist under the age of 40 who has made “the most significant contribution to economic thought and knowledge”), the John von Neumann Theory Prize in operations research, the National Medal of Science, and the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel (shared with John R. Hicks), as well as numerous others and honorary degrees. Arrow’s, perhaps, lesser known contributions outside of economic theory include work on the abatement of acid rain with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), efforts to build a program to provide affordable malaria medications with the Institute of Medicine (IOM), and political advocacy on behalf of persecuted scholars under repressive regimes throughout the world, among many others.
Arrow passed away in February, 2017 and this meant that new additions were made to his collection at the Economists’ Papers Archive. With a substantial amount of his papers already at the Rubenstein Library, the arrival of new materials required careful incorporation into the existing collection and management of a large quantity of physical materials (over 90 boxes in total!). This large and complicated re-processing project took several months and entailed significant re-organization, including the incorporation of his numerous prizes and the last chapters of his life; Arrow kept working until shortly before his death. How does one go about keeping track of such a large project with a number of boxes stored offsite at any one time? Well, a couple of Excel spreadsheets and a few lines of code can help to sort things out (an example is pictured below).
Using computing power to help overcome the challenges of sorting and tracking boxes in an archival collection may seem unrelated to the work of Kenneth Arrow, but his contributions to information economics and the economics of complex systems (via the Santa Fe Institute) helped pave the way for a burgeoning body of work applying computational modeling to economics. (They have, at least, been influential for the computational work done by the economist writing this post.)
The impact of Arrow’s work is too expansive to fully capture here, but having his papers available again in the Economists’ Papers Archive will prove an invaluable resource for those interested in one of the most influential economists of the post-war era.
Post contributed by Elizabeth Dunn, Research Services Librarian
The Rubenstein Library’s Economists’ Papers Archive attracts numerous scholars from around the globe. This summer, it has also attracted one very special scholar: rising eighth grader Benjamin Knight. Nearly every day, he has been a quiet presence in our reading room, working his way diligently through boxes of our Oskar Morgenstern Papers.
Although we often welcome even very small children whose families make a pilgrimage to see our first edition Book of Mormon, Benjamin is the youngest serious researcher anyone can remember. Those of us on the Research Services staff found his interest in this important Austrian American economist intriguing. He was kind enough to take time out of his work to grant me an interview.
Asked how he became interested in Morgenstern, Benjamin replied that he had read an article about Von Neumann and Morgenstern. (The two economists overlapped at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton from 1938 until 1954. Morgenstern, an economist trained at the University of Vienna and influenced by Carl Menger, was grappling with the challenges of economic prediction. He knew John Von Neumann’s 1928 paper on the theory of games and the two collaborated on their influential 1944 book, Theory of Games and Economic Behavior.1) Benjamin was pleased to discover that we hold the Morgenstern Papers, and is using them to tease out the sources of Morgenstern’s key ideas: the University of Vienna or Princeton. More generally, he is interested in the application of game theory to the analysis of social interactions and political decision-making. Some of the Morgenstern documents are hand-written in German. Asked whether those were challenging, Benjamin replied that the handwriting is a little problematic, but translating the German, which he has never studied, is more difficult.
Benjamin has many other interests besides game theory. He represented Brazil (and, with partner Claire Thananopavarn, won Best Delegation) in the Eighth Annual Chapel Hill-Carrboro Middle School Model United Nations Conference in April. He was part of the Smith team at this year’s Middle School National Academic Quiz Championship Tournament and placed among the top twenty-five competitors in the 2017 Wake Technical Community College Regional State Math Contest. When not competing, Benjamin enjoys reading fiction, history, and politics.
Benjamin comes by his interest in social and political analysis naturally. His mother, cultural anthropologist Margaret “Lou” Brown, is Senior Research Scholar and Director of Programs at Duke University’s Forum for Scholars and Publics. His father Jack Knight is Frederic Cleaveland Professor of Law and Political Science and holds a joint appointment in Duke’s School of Law and Trinity College of Arts and Sciences. Benjamin has not yet decided on a particular career path, but all of us in the Rubenstein are happy that he found us and look forward to following his continued successes.
Post contributed by Sara Seten Berghausen, Associate Curator of Collections
Kenneth J. Arrow, Nobel-winning economist and professor emeritus at Stanford University, passed away last week at the age of 95. Arrow’s work had an impact not only in economics, but was influential in fields across the social sciences.
His extensive research, teaching and activism are documented in the Economists’ Papers Archive in Rubenstein Library, where Arrow’s professional papers are preserved and made available to researchers. His papers are some of the Archive’s most heavily used, and Arrow was always very responsive to researchers’ questions and supportive of their work.
The Arrow papers document his work from his years as an undergraduate at City College of New York in late 1930s, through his graduate work at Columbia and the publication of his landmark book Social Choice and Individual Values in 1951, and includes research notes and extensive correspondence with other scholars from his later work in equilibrium theory, welfare theory, and as an advocate for addressing the hazards of global warming.
Dispatches from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University