Center for the History of Political Economy at Duke University

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The origins of the Center for the History of Political Economy (HOPE Center) at Duke University can be traced back to the 1930s when two prominent economists joined the faculty. Dr. Earl Hamilton, an expert in monetary history, Dr. Joseph Spengler, a specialist in demography, and their Ph.D. student, Robert S. Smith, shared a profound passion for the teaching and history of economics. The trio created an informal group dedicated to studying the history of political economy.

By the 1960s, Dr. Crauford Goodwin joined Duke University. With fresh energy, the group created the first-ever specialized journal on the history of economics.

While starting a journal may seem like a relatively insignificant event in Duke University’s history, it held immense significance for the field of economics. According to Paul Dudenhefer, a Duke HOPE staffer and writer, Goodwin was one of the pioneering figures who established the history of economic thought as a distinct subfield of study. Previously, it had been incorporated within the broader discipline of economics. By establishing the journal, Goodwin played a crucial role in cementing its status as an independent and thriving area of study.

Following the journal’s publication, the group established the History of Economics Society at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Over the years, the faculty group and interest in the subject grew, resulting in the establishment of the Economist’s Papers Archive, conferences, and the exploration of new projects.

In 2008, Dr. Bruce Caldwell joined the University to formally establish the HOPE Center with the support of the John William Pope Foundation. Since its formal inception, the Pope Foundation has granted the Center just over $2.1 million.

The mission of the HOPE Center is of utmost importance because many overlook the historical aspect of economics within the economics curriculum. While recently graduated economists may have a solid understanding of current theories and practices, they often lack a firm grasp on the history of their profession – where these theories originated and who pioneered them.

“We’re trying to change the culture of the economics profession, to get economists more interested in their history,” Caldwell said. “But you don’t change academic institutions overnight. It’s a long-term process.”

Today, the HOPE Center is a dynamic program on Duke’s campus – hosting visiting scholars, leading a workshop series, and offering special events. And, of course, it still produces the History of Political Economy journal, now a leading publication in the field of economics.

However, the HOPE Center’s initiatives are not limited to the academic year alone. During the summer months, Caldwell orchestrates an institute that attracts professors and graduate students to engage in meaningful discussions and delve into the works of prominent economists like Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Friedrich Hayek, and John Maynard Keynes.

The summer institutes bring in graduate students from the top economics programs in the country, such as Harvard and Berkeley. Historians of economics from Duke and other schools give lectures and lead discussions on various themes.

“We’re trying to get these students interested in the history of economics, and I think we’ve been successful,” Caldwell said. “This is a way to learn about things that students won’t hear about in their regular classes.”

HOPE Center students embark on diverse career paths. One such student, Dr. Simon Bilo, actively participated in the summer institute and the “Summer in the Archives” program. A native of Slovakia, Bilo had firsthand experience living under a command economy in a Soviet bloc country. This experience made him profoundly appreciate the merits of free economies and Austrian economics.

Following his tenure as an assistant professor of economics at Allegheny College, Bilo joined the World Bank in 2019. Bilo emphasizes that his time in the Duke program was invaluable and significantly contributed to his professional growth.

“The Duke Center really helped me to start to build a network,” Bilo said. “You really build your career on a personal network. The summer institute brought in some of the best people in the country and helped me to get to know them.”

To learn more about the Center for the History of Political Economy at Duke University, visit their website at

Authored by JWPF staff with the assistance of Writesonic.


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