History of Economic Crisis, 1720-2008

History 103B.003

Fall 2017
2303 Dwinelle
Day & Time: 
T 10-12
Class Number: 

The year 1720 witnessed the world's first international financial crisis, in the form of the South Sea Bubble in Britain and the Mississippi Bubble in France. Since then the core of "developed" countries in Europe and America has experienced a major economic crisis about once per decade, with the most recent Great Recession still ongoing. How can we understand these crises? Is each one unique, or is there an underlying pattern? What determines their frequency and severity? Are crises an inevitable and natural feature of the modern economy? Is it possible to learn lessons from a previous crisis in order to avoid the next one? This course introduces students to a wide variety of influential attempts to answer these questions. It focuses particularly on historical accounts of eighteenth and nineteenth century financial crises under the classical gold standard system, the economic history of the Great Depression, and contemporary economic and policy explanations for debt and currency crises since the 1970s which culminated in the crisis of 2008. The main focus will be on the developed Atlantic economies, but since the Great Depression and the post-1970s crises have been global events, the perspective will necessarily broaden as the course proceeds. Although the course does involve reading economists and economic historians, it assumes no prior economics training, and indeed aims to familiarize students from many scholarly backgrounds with the techniques for reading, understanding, and interpreting quantitative social science research.