U.S. Economic History Syllabus, Spring 2018

OttesonH442, Economic History of the United States

Syllabus, Spring 2018.  Lane 125, 9:30-10:45, Tuesdays-Thursdays

Prof (such as he is!): Brad Birzer


H442 students, thank you so much for taking this course.  I’ve only taught it once before, and that was way back in 2001.  Roughly the time some of you were only aged one or two!  For what it’s worth, I grew up (in high school) reading everything I could from Henry Hazlitt, Milton Friedman, Steve Forbes, Israel Kirzner, and Friedrich Hayek.  Yes, I was that guy in the 1980s.  Still, while I think I’m fairly good on entrepreneurial theory and the broad overview of American business and entrepreneurial history, I’m not an expert. So, again—thank you.


Assigned readings. 

You will be responsible for these as a major part of your midterm and final examinations.

  • James Otteson, THE END OF SOCIALISM (first half of the semester)
  • Robert Higgs, CRISIS AND LEVIATHAN (second half of the semester)
  • other articles, chapters, etc.—scanned and sent to you via email or dropbox

HiggsCoverage of the course. American economic history, from the Columbian Exchange to 2018.  We’ll focus on the broad trends of American economic history as well as the specific things that drove the economy: from exploration and the fur trade to Disney’s acquisition of everything under the sun.  I’m also deeply interested in how individual decisions (per Kirzner) change the economic landscape, promoting the discovery process.  I’m equally interested in what might be generally termed political economy.  For the first 2/3 of the course, I’ll lecture.  For the final 1/3 (April), I’d like you to report on your findings from your research papers. I always encourage you to ask questions and challenge me at any point of the class and semester.  When it comes to government intervention in the economy, I’m (personally) about as free market/anarchist as they come. I state this for no other reason than full disclosure.  I would NEVER—under any circumstances—grade you for holding different views from mine, as I assume you’re well aware.  If not, I’m a bad, bad man!


Research papers.  Beginning today (as you read this email), January 12, 2018, I’m assigning a research paper.  When you turn the final paper into me on the last Friday of ordinary classes (just prior to finals week), April 27, 2018, at 5pm in my office, I will expect a 12-20 page paper, complete with Turabian-style footnotes, 1-inch margins on all sides, and double-spaced in the main body of text.  While you’re welcome to email me a .doc, .docx, or pages file, I also need a physical, tangible, stapled hard copy of your final paper.  The paper topic is TOTALLY of your choosing, as long as it involves some aspect of American economic history or American political economy, 1492-present.  You’re welcome to write on an inventor or entrepreneur, a government policy, or an economic trend.  So, anything from Paul Revere as silversmith to U.S. tariff policy under President Jefferson, from the development of the Erie Canal to Steve Jobs, and everything in between.  I am always much more interested in your employment of primary sources (letters, diaries, reports, newspaper accounts) than secondary ones, but secondary sources have their place as well.


Presentations. Toward the end of the semester (see attached schedule), each of you will be responsible for a 10-minute classroom presentation on your topic.



  • Midterm examination (including knowledge and understanding of Otteson): 30%.
  • Final examination (comprehensive, including knowledge and understanding of Higgs): 30%.
  • Classroom presentation: 10%.
  • Final paper: 30%.



  • First day of classes: January 23, 2018 (there will be NO class on January 18)
  • Last Day to drop course with a “cancel”: February 2, 2018
  • 1-2 page precis/summation of term paper due: February 13, 2018, in class
  • Last Day to drop course with a “W”: March 2, 2018
  • Midterm examination: March 22
  • Spring Break: March 3, 2018-March 11, 2018
  • PW: March 17, 2018
  • Easter Weekend: Friday, March 30, noon through Monday, April 2
  • Classroom presentations: April 5, 12, 17, 19, 24, 26
  • Final examination: Thursday, May 3, 8-10am





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