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History of Political Economy 35.1 (2003) 163-164

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Contributions to the History of Economic Thought: Essays in Honour of R. D. C. Black. Edited by Antoin E. Murphy and Renee Prendergast. London: Routledge, 2000. xvii; 349 pp. $110.00.

This collection deservedly honors the career of a distinguished scholar. Unlike most Festschriften, this volume opens with a transcript of an interview the editors conducted with the honoree. This makes for a delightful beginning. From it we learn of the decisive role played by Princeton's Jacob Viner in orienting R. D. C. (“Bob”) Black's research in the directions for which he is best known. With a proposal to study American economic thought in the nineteenth century, Black had won a Rockefeller Fellowship in 1950 that brought him to the United States. In a visit to Princeton shortly after his arrival, Viner convinced him that nineteenth-century American economic thought didn't “amount to a hill of beans” and that his time would be much better spent researching classical economics and Ireland. Thus were some of the foundations laid for Economic Thought and the Irish Question, 1817–1870, which appeared a decade later.

The contributed chapters—fourteen in all—are divided into six parts and range over a considerable span. In part 1, A. W. Coats provides an appreciative historiographical and methodological analysis of Black's writings. Part 2 consists of an essay by D. P. O'Brien treating the history of economic thought as an intellectual discipline and reflections by Bernard Corry on his experiences in teaching the history of economic thought. In part 3, perspectives on Adam Smith are offered by Donald Winch and Andrew S. Skinner, and Pedro Schwartz examines the way in which the early Spanish translations of The Wealth of Nations were adapted to accommodate the sensibilities of the religious authorities. Part 4 includes a reappraisal of the Jevonian revolution by Margaret Schabas, a comparative study of William Stanley Jevons and Hermann Heinrich Gossen by John K. Whitaker, and an essay by Ian Steedman on J. E. L. Shadwell (a rather obscure figure about whom Jevons had some good things to say). Irish themes dominate part 5 (titled “Into the Archives”). Tadhg Foley and Tom Boylan examine the controversy between two Irish economists—J. E. Cairnes [End Page 163] and T. E. Cliffe Leslie—as they rivaled for the attention of John Stuart Mill. Cormac Ó Gráda examines the engagement of Irish immigrants with the Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank, chartered in New York in 1850, and concludes that even the poorest among the refugees from the famine managed to save in a drive to improve themselves. Part 6, “Abstraction and Reality,” contains three essays: Renee Prendergast on the political economy of Edmund Burke, Charles Hickson on Carl Menger's organic view of institutions, and Antoin E. Murphy on John Law and canons of monetary orthodoxy.

It is a pleasure to report that this collection is aptly titled. Each chapter makes a genuine and worthwhile “contribution”—something that cannot always be said about the Festschrift genre. Altogether they make a worthy tribute to an outstanding scholar, teacher, and gentleman.


William J. Barber,
Wesleyan University



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pp. 163-164
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Archived 2005
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