Economics 205W

History of Economic Thought


Fall 2004

MWF 8:00-8:50

Monteith 221


R. N. Langlois

Room 322 Monteith

Office hours: MWF 10:15-12 or by appointment




Guidelines for writing assignment


This is a “W” course, which means that I must base half your course grade on a writing assignment.  The quality of the writing must count as much as substance.  And you cannot pass the course without passing the writing component.


The writing assignment is a term paper comprising at least 5,000 words including footnotes and bibliography.  (To count the words in your document, use “word count” from the Tools menu in Microsoft Word.)  You are free to pick any topic (in consultation with me) that is related to the history of economic thought.  (See below for suggestions.) 


The paper is due in final form on the last day of class.  But components and drafts will due before that in accordance with a strict timetable.  (Revision and editing of the manuscript is another important aspect of a “W” course.) 



September 13:

One-page proposal due

September 20:

Preliminary list of references.

September 27:

Outline due.

October 25:

First draft due.

November 1:

First draft returned with comments.

November 15:

Second draft due.

November 29:

Second draft returned with comments.

December 10:

Final draft due.



N. B.  First draft must be at least 3,000 words and second draft at least 5,000.


The paper should draw on both primary and secondary sources.  A primary source is a text by an economist you are writing about (e. g., The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith).  A secondary source is an article that discusses or interprets some aspect of a primary source or sources (e. g., G. B. Richardson, "Adam Smith on Competition and Increasing Returns," in Andrew S. Skinner and Thomas Wilson, eds., Essays on Adam Smith. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975.)  Keep in mind that encyclopedia entries and textbooks are the least valuable kinds of secondary sources.  You should seek out articles by professional economists and intellectual historians.  




Choosing a topic.


There are several strategies for finding a topic.


1.     Write about an economist whom we don’t discuss (much) in class.  (Examples: J.-B. Say, John Bates Clark, Henry George, F. Y. Edgeworth, Allyn Young, Irving Fisher, Frank Knight).


2.     Write about some aspect of a famous economist’s work that we don’t treat at length in class.  (Examples:  Smith on money; Ricardo on technological unemployment; Marshall’s theory of demand.) 


3.     Compare and contrast similar ideas in two or more economists.  (Examples: Ricardo and Mill on the stationary state; Plato and Smith on the division of labor.) 


4.     Write a history of some field of economics or set of ideas that interests you.  In general, the narrow the better.  (Examples: urban economics, the quantity theory of money.)


5.     An idea that can combine (1) and (4): write about a Nobel Laureate (or other prominent modern economist) as a way of tracing the history of the ideas for which he or she is known.  For a list of, and links to information about, the Nobel laureates, see


6.     Connect economic ideas with the economic history of the time.  (Examples: mercantilism and the history of the East India Company; the Corn Laws in history and in thought.)



Style and resources.


We will talk about writing style in class.  You also have the McCloskey book as a resource as well as my Notes on Writing.


You must cite all ideas that are not your own.  (See plagiarism below.)  You should cite references using the “scientific” or name-date style, which is dominant in economics.  That means that, rather than placing a reference in a footnote, you should follow the idea you are citing with the name of the author and the date of publication of the work cited.  Example: 


Far from being the inventor of the idea of perfect competition, Adam Smith was in fact among the last representative of economists who saw competition as a dynamic process of rivalry (McNulty 1967). 


This means you are citing a 1967 article by someone called McNulty as the source of the idea in the sentence.  You would then list that article in a list of references at the end of your paper:


McNulty, Paul J. 1967. “A Note on the History of Perfect Competition,” Journal of Political Economy 75(4): 395-399 (August)


There are many ways to run the details of a name-date style.  I care only that you pick one style and use it consistently.  Here is the style guide for the Journal of Economic Perspectives:


Some of your references may be available online.  There are standards for citing online resources as well.  Here is a good source with extensive links to related resources:





The UConn student conduct code defines plagiarism as “presenting as one's own the ideas or words of another for academic evaluation.”  Here are some resources from the UConn Libraries, the UConn English Department, and Harvard University.  Please read these carefully.


I take plagiarism seriously.  If you have questions or concerns, please ask me.




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