chapter  8
34 Pages

‘A powerful instrument of progress’: economic textbooks in Belgium 1830–1925


We have used a combination of criteria to arrive at a more or less consistent set of Belgian economic textbooks. First of all, we have looked at the nationality of the author. It must be added that we have interpreted this criterion with some flexibility and included textbooks written by non-Belgian authors if these were directly related to their activity in Belgium (an example is the work by the Italian Luigi Chitti). Second, we have looked at books which aimed to make economic knowledge available for wider audiences. The targeted groups may have been students at universities or other higher education institutions, but also pupils of primary or secondary schools, special interest groups, and the (educated) public in general. The educational purpose of the works is very often indicated by one of the words ‘manuel’, ‘cours’, ‘précis’, ‘notions fondamentales’, ‘grandes lignes’, ‘principes’, ‘éléments’, or ‘traité (élémentaire)’ in the title. In some textbooks the educational aspect was combined with other concerns and ambitions. Third, we have limited ourselves to books published in the period 1830 – the year in which Belgium became an independent country – and the mid 1920s. Somewhat arbitrarily we have taken Maurice Ansiaux’s Traité d’économie politique, published between 1920 and 1926, as the last manual of our sample. Fourth, we have not only selected textbooks that mention ‘political economy’ or ‘economics’ in their title, but also those that refer to ‘social’, ‘industrial’ and ‘agricultural’ economics, since these were clearly also conceived as instruments in the spread of political economy. We believe that our selection captures most of the economics textbooks published in Belgium, though it is possible that a few items may have slipped through the net. What we have deliberately not taken into account are the lecture notes of a number of university professors which have been preserved only in unpublished form.2 We have also excluded editions of foreign manuals put on the market by Belgian publishers. The freedom inscribed in the Constitution of 1831 attracted many foreign writers to Belgian publishing houses.3 We did, however, include a number of translations which were either substantially modified versions of the original, or new compilations of material from different sources. The overwhelming majority of the books in our sample are written in French, which reflects the fact that in the period under consideration the language of education in Belgium was predominantly French, except for primary schools. Emiel Vliebergh seems to have been the first to publish an academic treatise in Dutch, in 1920. Before that date, only three educational textbooks, of a very elementary nature, were written directly in Dutch.4 A few textbooks were translated into Dutch for reasons of spreading political economy amongst the popular classes that spoke Dutch (or rather some variant of Flemish).