The State of American History

By Herbert J. Bass | Go to book overview

The Economic History of the United States in the Twentieth Century

DOUGLAS F. DOWD

"The generation since 1945 has...been brought up amid institutional and international problems. If this is the case, perhaps economic history must broaden its traditional scope." Thus Thomas C. Cochran, when ten years ago he was asked to speak to the present topic for the Economic History Association.1 The "institutional and international problems" that became evident between 1945 and 1959 have of course broadened and deepened, both at home and abroad, and there is nothing about which we care -- the economy, the university, the polity, the family, religion and morality, the young, our cities, the relationships between the races, peace -- that is not now imbedded in crisis, lurching along paths that lead we know not where. Is it irrelevant to our condition that the social sciences, and among them economic history, have since 1945, and even more since Professor Cochran issued his muted warning, narrowed, not broadened, their scope? It is with these matters and questions in mind that I would like to evaluate the economic historiography of our country in this century.

Let me acknowledge, or rather assert, at the outset that of course this is not the only legitimate focus for an essay on the economic history of the United States in the twentieth century. A substantial amount of valuable work has been done in this century by economic historians of the United States, work whose value is measured only in part by the fact that the larger and undone tasks cannot be accomplished without leaning on it. Especially since the mid-1930's, economists with a historical approach have provided us with numerous studies of partic-

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