Introducing the Journal of Historical Political Economy

Over the last year, History Political Economy (HPE) has really taken off.

If you’re reading this, you have been following Broadstreet, which has been serving — and building — the HPE community since August 2020.

Recently, my fellow Broadstreet editor, Jared Rubin, and I signed an agreement to edit the Oxford Handbook of Historical Political Economy, which will bring together the research leaders in the HPE field around a variety of topics. The estimated publication date for the volume is 2023; here are the authors and chapter titles.

And, finally, HPE now has its own journal! Last year, I contracted with Now Publishers to edit the Journal of Historical Political Economy (JHPE). The first issue is tentatively set to appear online tomorrow. Anyone interested in reading the articles can get free access by simply registering with Now Publishers.

For a statement on JHPE’s aims and scope, see here. The editorial board is made up of leaders in the field, many of whom are Broadstreet editors. And the journal has a Twitter page: @JHPE_journal.

To build JHPE’s “brand,” I will devote the first couple of volumes to special issues. As of now, the scheduled special issues look like this:

1:1: Theory and Method in HPE

1:2: Frontiers in HPE

1:3: Slavery and Its Legacies

1:4: Historical Persistence, Part I

2:1: Historical Persistence, Part II

2:2: The Political Economy of Empire

To whet your appetite for the first issue, I post the titles and abstracts below:

(1) Not-so-Natural Experiments in History, by Christian Dippel and Bryan Leonard

This paper compares the role of cliometrics — broadly defined to include economics, political science, and other social sciences — before and after the “credibility revolution” of the late 1990s. The contributions of cliometrics that led to the 1993 Nobel Prize were due primarily to a combination of quantification and economic theory with in-depth historical knowledge. After the credibility revolution, much of cliometrics shifted toward “natural experiments,” especially in papers published in general-interest journals. We argue that this shift comes with certain trade-offs between statistical and contextual evidence, and that the refereeing process currently makes these trade-offs steeper in historical settings than in other observational-data settings. We also argue, however, that historical settings offer particularly actionable ways of flattening these trade-offs to ensure the “clio” in cliometrics stays alive and well.

(2) History Never Really Says Goodbye: A Critical Review of the Persistence Literature, by Leticia Arroyo Abad and Noel Maurer

This paper discusses the rise to prominence of persistence studies, defined as studies that use quantitative causal inference to link past events with later economic and political outcomes. Persistence studies have given us many profound insights and have brought history into the mainstream of social science. We argue, however, that some of the persistence literature has overcorrected for past oversights. We select canonical persistence studies to illustrate some common pitfalls in the literature and discuss potential ways around them. These include the failure to recognize institutional change (“anti-persistence”), vague mechanisms, the insufficient use (or misuse) of historical sources and narratives, the compression of history, and a failure to account for the effects of geography. We suggest that the current enthusiasm for persistence studies risks pushing out other valuable work in economic history and historical political economy.

(3) Theory, History, and Political Economy, by Sean Gailmard

In this short paper I offer conceptualizations of history, theory, and their interplay under the aegis of political economy. My primary argument is that historical political economy (HPE) depends on theory for its success. First, notwithstanding empirical causal identification, causal explanation is impossible without theory. Second, establishing causal uniqueness (that a particular mechanism is the only reasonable candidate to explain a case) and causal generalization (that a particular mechanism explains other cases not yet empirically analyzed) are exclusively theoretical in nature. No research design, however rigorous or credible, can support these claims; thus it is counterproductive for HPE scholars to analyze cases simply because causal identification is possible. I conclude that political economy can best contribute to historical understanding by applying mechanisms from this field as candidate explanations of important cases, and history can contribute to political economy by helping us discover new mechanisms.

(4) Context is Everything: The Problem of History in Quantitative Social Science, by Tracy Dennison

Historians and social scientists inhabit increasingly separate academic worlds. At the same time, history is assuming a more prominent role in quantitative social science, especially among researchers interested in economic growth and development over the long run. In this paper I argue that those who employ historical arguments, especially about the role of institutions and their long-term effects, must engage more actively with the findings of historians. Failing to incorporate historical research leads to models that mischaracterize the constraint structure faced by individuals and groups in the societies they seek to explain. Examples from the social science and history literatures are adduced to reinforce this point.

(5) Turning History into Data: Data Collection, Measurement, and Inference in HPE, by Alexandra Cirone and Arthur Spirling

There are a number of challenges that arise when working with historical data. On one hand, scholars often find themselves with too much archival data to read, code, or compile into large-N datasets; on the other hand, scholars often find themselves dealing with too little information and problems of missing data. Selection bias, time decay, confirmation bias, and lack of contextual knowledge can also be potential obstacles. This paper serves to identify common threats to inference when performing historical data collection, and provide a number of best practices that can guide potential scholars of historical political economy. We also discuss new advances in data digitization, text-as-data, and text analysis that allow for the quantitative exploration of historical material.

I hope you enjoy the articles in JHPE, and thanks to everyone out there who has helped to build the HPE community!


  • Jeffery A. Jenkins is Provost Professor of Public Policy, Political Science, and Law, Judith and John Bedrosian Chair of Governance and the Public Enterprise, Director of the Bedrosian Center, and Director of the Political Institutions and Political Economy (PIPE) Collaborative at the University of Southern California. He is the founding editor of the Journal of Political Institutions and Political Economy (JPIPE) and the Journal of Historical Political Economy (JHPE). He was the Editor-in-Chief of The Journal of Politics for six years (2015-2020).

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