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19 Pages

INTRODUCTION: THE SUPPLY OF AND DEMAND FOR ECONOMICS IN LATE VICTORIAN BRITAIN

When, in the early 1980s, the contributors to this volume began their work on the institutional development of political economy in Britain, the lack of a reliable overview of this process appeared in itself sufficient justification for the undertaking. Relatively little was known about the history of academic institutionalization in Britain; and it also became evident in the course of our research that historical understanding of the modern British university system as a whole was gravely defective. It was at first far from clear what sort of conclusions would result from the enterprise. The initial, seemingly modest, aim was therefore to reconstruct the process whereby economics became an academic discipline within the context of the development of higher education in Britain. Only in retrospect have certain distinct patterns become discernible, and the significance of specific institutional histories evident. The need for an overall synthetic survey remains; and these essays form a sound basis for such a synthesis. None the less, the broad outlines of the entry of political economy into British university institutions are now visible, and in many respects they modify, or even contradict, the general working assumptions of existing studies that deal with the history of economics within the framework of a more conventional history of ideas.