Economics 365 Economic Institutions in Historical Perspective

Fall 2021
Lectures: MW 2:30pm to 3:45pm
Location: CAS 315

Professor James Feigenbaum
Department of Economics
270 Bay State Road, Room 307

Course Description

The course will examine a selection of the major themes in the economic development of the United States (with briefer coverage of the rest of the world for certain topics). There is no textbook; instead, we will read research papers written by economists and other scholars relevant to each topic. We begin with an overview of some of the empirical methods commonly used in modern economics and their application in economic history, as well as a discussion of new sources of historical data, the lifeblood of economic history. Then, we will study themes including institutions and the long run development of the US; slavery and emancipation; immigration and migration; the Great Depression, the New Deal, and the economics of WWII; human capital (including education, health, and crime); technology adoption; and inequality and intergenerational mobility (including race and gender gaps).

This course is intended for economics majors. It is helpful if students have a good understanding of microeconomics at the intermediate level and some exposure to economic statistics. However, all necessary economic tools (theories, econometrics, etc) will be covered in lecture.

Office Hours

My office hours are Wednesdays from 12:30pm to 2pm, by appointment. Please make an appointment at I require you to schedule appointments during office hours for two reasons. First, you don’t want to waste time waiting for your classmates to finish their appointments. Second, we’re trying to reduce crowding in the narrow hallways of the econ building. If you cannot make my listed office hours, send me an email and we will figure out a time to talk.

Office hours are for your benefit. If there is something from lecture or the readings that you did not understand or want to learn more about or piqued your interest, those are all great reasons to make an appointment for office hours.

Our TF is Sophie Li, a PhD candidate in the Economics department. She will be holding office hours TBD and by appointment. Email her at

Course Web Page

Blackboard Learn, but a copy of the syllabus is here


There is no textbook for this course. All readings will be available on the course website.

Exams, Assignments, and Grades

There is a in-class midterm and a final exam. The final exam is cumulative but will be weighted towards the material after the midterm.

The midterm will be on November 1 in class. The final will be as scheduled by the registrar, December 14 from 3pm to 5pm. Put these dates in your calendar ASAP, as there will be no make-up exams without a note from a dean.

In addition, we will have four short research question assignments. Writing a complete original research paper during a semester-long course is very hard (and in economic history, with a premium on collecting new old data, it is nearly impossible). Instead, I want to help you to start thinking about how to come up with possible questions you could ask (and answer) in a full project. Think of this as the very first step you would take before starting original research. Getting familiar with this step will deepen your understanding of the social science research process. These assignments will be maximum one page each (seriously, I will stop reading after one page). See below for more detail on the question assignments.

Your course grade weights the midterm at 35 percent, the final at 35 percent, 30 percent for the short assignments (7.5 percent each). I will not review any grades before at least 24 hours have passed. Remember that grades can be adjusted down just as easily as they can be adjusted up.

Covid-19 Considerations

This is not likely to be a completely normal semester for any of us, unfortunately. While I am sure you are all eager to attend classes in person after LfA last year, the pandemic is not over. If you are feeling sick or unwell or anything, please do not feel like you have to come to class and risk your own health and everyone else’s.

There is no penalty for missing a lecture and I have removed any points for class participation from the grading for this semester. I will be recording the lectures and posting them on our course blackboard. You can watch the lectures at half-speed (if I’m talking too fast) or 2x speed (if I’m talking too slow) and I hope they will serve as an adequate substitute for live lectures if you have to miss class for any reason at all. And beyond the recorded lectures, the TF and I will be glad to help you catch up on whatever you miss via Zoom.

When you are attending class, I ask a few things (both COVID-related and otherwise). First, I am requiring that we all wear masks throughout the term for everyone’s safety, whether or not BU’s or Boston’s or the CDC’s guidance changes. Please make sure your mask completely covers your mouth and nose and keep it on at all times. If you need to have something to eat or drink, please leave the classroom briefly to do so. Second, if you are attending class in person, please arrive on time. We will start promptly at 2:30pm on Mondays and Wednesdays and entering late (especially if you make it habit) will be quite disruptive to your fellow students and to me. Third, see the technology policy below on phones/computers/tablets during class.

If you need to get an extension on an assignment or have any other concerns, please just ask. I will be incredibly flexible with deadlines if you talk with me ahead of time. I am much less excited about emails asking for extensions five minutes before a deadline.

More generally, we should all be prepared to be flexible, not knowing what is ahead. We will work together to adapt the course if public health conditions require it.

Technology Policy

While I will allow laptops during lecture, you should be aware that recent research shows that students retain information far more effectively when they take notes by hand. Taking notes about graphs and figures and tables on a computer might also be quite difficult. If you choose to use your laptop during class, please try not to live-tweet or live-stream or live-anything, at least not without the class hashtag (hashtag TBD). It should go without saying that cellphone use is absolutely forbidden during lecture. Please silence and put away your phone before class begins. It is really that easy. I promise not to play on my phone during lecture either.

Academic Integrity

I have a zero-tolerance policy for academic dishonesty. If you submit work that is fully or partially plagiarized—defined as appropriating someone else’s words or ideas without proper attribution—you will receive a failing grade. Please check with me if you are unsure of how to cite material in your written work. You can consult BU’s academic integrity policy here:

Schedule of Lectures and Reading

As you can see from the schedule below, each class has three or four papers listed. I will lecture on all papers (maybe more!), but you should absolutely read the FIRST paper in each class before lecture (they will be the most important for the exams, and you will understand the lectures much better if you have read the paper first). The other papers will be covered in lecture, and an understanding of the research questions and the results (that is, what we cover in class) will suffice for exams.


September 8

Long Run Development: Colonialism and Institutions

September 13

Long Run Development: Culture and Path Dependence

September 15

Slavery: Effects on Africa

September 20

Slavery in the United States

September 22

Civil War and Reconstruction

September 27

Agriculture and Property Rights

September 29


October 4

The Great Depression

October 6

The New Deal and WWII

October 12 (this is a Tuesday)

October 13

Inequality: Why?

October 18

October 20

Intergenerational Mobility: Why?

October 25

Women in the Labor Force

October 27


November 1


November 3


November 8

  • Alsan, Marcella and Marianne Wanamaker. 2017. “Tuskegee and the Health of Black Men.” Quarterly Journal of Economics
  • Cutler, David and Grant Miller. 2005. “The Role of Public Health Improvements in Health Advances: The 20th Century United States.” Demography
  • Almond, Douglas. 2006. “Is the 1918 Influenza Pandemic Over? Long-term Effects of In Utero Influenza in the Post-1940 U.S. Population.” Journal of Political Economy
  • Anderson, Mark, Ryan Brown, Kerwin Kofi Charles, and Daniel Rees. 2017. “The Effect of Occupational Licensing on Consumer Welfare: Early Midwifery Laws and Maternal Mortality.” NBER Working Paper #22456


November 10

The Great Migration

November 15

The West and Westward Migration

November 17


November 22


November 24

Marriage and Fertility

November 29

Urban and Suburban America after WWII

December 1

The Voting Rights Act

December 6

The Great Society and the War on Poverty

December 8

Final Exam

December 14