When Thomas Carlyle dubbed economics “the dismal science,” economic thought was still in its infancy. He could not foresee the significant role that economics would play in shaping world events in the 20th century, which was defined, in part, by the conflicts between competing systems of economic organization. Together, the collections described herein document some of the most important strands in 20th-century economic history, providing insight into the economic debates that thrived in this era, whether they concerned the establishment or disavowal of the gold standard, international monetary policy and free trade, the various approaches to what was called Third World development, population control, or the best means to alleviate depression and/or inflation. At a time when free market ideas are ascendant, these collections demonstrate that the path was neither linear nor smooth.
While this material is certainly important for the study of intellectual history, economic history, and biography (the collection includes the work of leading theoreticians in several key areas), its greatest value is documenting the process whereby public policy is formed. Many of the individuals and organizations represented here were involved in major economic events of the 20th century: the Dawes Commission; the economic upheavals of two world wars; the development of the U.S. Social Security system; the creation of the international finance structure at Bretton Woods that resulted in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund; the Marshall Plan; and development efforts around the world , to name a few. These collections represent one of the great historical sources documenting economic thought and development in the 20th century.
This guide resulted from a two-year project in which 29 economics-related collections were processed to modern standards, thanks to the generous support of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission and the John Foster and Janet Avery Dulles Fund. In addition to these collections, 24 previously processed collections relating to economics are also described, providing a comprehensive listing to the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library’s collections in this field. We hope that users reviewing these materials find them interesting and even exciting. We certainly are proud to count these collections and the wealth of information they contain among our holdings.
Daniel J. Linke
University Archivist and Curator of Public Policy Papers
January 18, 2008