chapter  21
18 Pages

LIVING WITH THE NEIGHBOURS: THE ROLE OF ECONOMIC HISTORY: (Oxford, 1970)

SMALL countries are more influenced by their neighbours than large; small countries without defensible linear frontiers, over whose territories all neighbours enjoy grazing rights, may be hard put to it to maintain their identity at all. Economic history, as its hybrid name acknowledges, occupies such a role between the major powers of history and economics, at once its neighbours and its parent disciplines, but has been subject to periodic incursions from more distant quarters, such as anthropology, law, and theology and now, increasingly, from sociology. Every invasion has left its mark; even if no colonies survive, genetical influences are absorbed. Being a small, relatively new subject (at least in institutionalized ways with special university degrees, posts, and examination papers), most established scholars have come into it from adjacent disciplines in history and economics. In Britain history has been the principal progenitor; in the United States economics-at least for modern economic history. In Oxford and Cambridge, as elsewhere, it lives without a freehold of its own, with lodgings in both history and social studies, enjoying a presence on the menu in both establishments, but never a solid meal in either, with a double ration of committees and half the number of students. And the economic historian, caught between history and economics, never knowing where booksellers may choose to locate the wares he wants, commonly having to change his faculty whenever he crosses the Atlantic, is for ever a historian among economists; an economist among historians. As Housman said in another college hall when professor of latin: 'Here stand I, a better poet than Porson, a better scholar than Wordsworth, betwixt and between.' These trivia of uncertainty are to be seen as the symbols of deeper gulfs, just as profound theological incompatibilities once broke surface to astonished villagers as controversies about altar clothes and tables, candles and images.