Daniele Besomi (Ed.). Crises and Cycles in Economic Dictionaries and Encyclopaedias

By White, Graham | History of Economics Review, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview

Daniele Besomi (Ed.). Crises and Cycles in Economic Dictionaries and Encyclopaedias


White, Graham, History of Economics Review


Daniele Besomi (ed.). Crises and Cycles in Economic Dictionaries and Encyclopaedias. London: Routledge. 2012. Pp. xxv + 676. ISBN 978-0-415-49903-3. US$195.00.

For those interested in the nature of the development of economics as an intellectual discipline as well as those interested in the development of such a key area as the study of business cycles, this book has much to highly recommend it.

The book is as interesting in relation to its discussion of economics dictionaries and encyclopaedias (EDAE), their character and evolution, as it will be for the reader consulting information about specific types of entries.

At over 650 pages, this is a sizeable book. On the other side of the ledger though is the fact that its subject area--crises and cycles--is voluminous and, like its primary sources, the book can be 'consulted' and need not be read from cover to cover in order to be of interest.

As the editor Daniele Besomi notes in the Introduction, the book examines crises and cycles--specifically how they've been discussed in EDAE--noting the role EDEA play in the dissemination of knowledge about the discipline (a role that I suspect is often overlooked by academics, perhaps more so than the average interested layperson), both within and outside the academy. In this sense the book is an eye-opener for those unfamiliar with the economic dictionary or encyclopaedia. The Introduction and Chapters 2 to 4 constitute the first of three parts to the book and are particularly important in clarifying this role. These chapters also provide a panoramic view (to use Besomi's words) of how notions about crises and cycles have changed across time and place. This is especially useful since it would not be readily discernible from the discussion of the entries themselves in Parts II and III of the book.

Worth noting is the admission that what is set down in the entries surveyed is not typically at the cutting edge of research, although they are often written by those actively engaged in research in the field. These entries will therefore often provide a fascinating snapshot of what those at the forefront of the field at a point in time perceive as the key questions for research. Looked at across time a survey of EDAE becomes a useful tool for tracking the development of the discipline over time and an invaluable tool in assessing the nature of 'progress' or 'advancement' in a discipline such as economics.

Chapter 2 provides a history of EDAE in general and starts with the interesting motivational point that 'so far no complete and detailed history of economic dictionaries has been compiled' (p. 27). The chapter provides a classification of EDAE designed to discern some broad patterns, drawing on the list of EDAE compiled in Chapter 29. This list is extensive and goes beyond economic dictionaries, including also dictionaries relating to other social sciences which have economic entries or entries relating to economics. Particularly useful are the diagrams at the end of this chapter which show how the size of dictionaries has changed from the 1820s to the 2000s, how the relative importance of different languages has changed, and how these changes occur not just for specifically economic dictionaries but also for the wider category of social science dictionaries with economics-related entries.

Chapter 3 is a considerably long chapter on 'Naming Crises' (80 pages): 'chronologically mapping the terminological and conceptual changes taking place in the literature' (p. 54) on crises and cycles. Its main purpose is to provide some insight into why the profession eventually settles on a certain limited number of prominent terms in its discussion of the field. The discussion is drawn from wider source material than just EDAE and goes to the vast literature in economics. Useful also in this chapter are the diagrams, which show the frequency of occurrences of specific terms across the source material up to 2009. …

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