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Most of the existing research on economic history relies either solely or ultimately on calculations of material interest to explain the major events of the modern world. However, care must be taken not to rely too heavily on materialism, with its associated confidence in perfectly rational actors that simply do not exist. What is needed for a more cogent understanding of the long history of capitalist growth is a more realistic, human-centered approach that can take account of the role of nonmaterial values and beliefs, an approach convincingly articulated by Deirdre McCloskey in her landmark trilogy of books on the moral and ethical basis of modern economic life.
With Humanism Challenges Materialism in Economics and Economic History, Roderick Floud, Santhi Hejeebu, and David Mitch have brought together a distinguished group of scholars in economics, economic history, political science, philosophy, gender studies, and communications who synthesize and build on McCloskey’s work. The essays in this volume illustrate the ways in which the humanistic approach to economics that McCloskey pioneered can open up new vistas for the study of economic history and cultivate rich synergies with a wide range of disciplines. The contributors show how values and beliefs become embedded in the language of economics and shape economic outcomes. Chapters on methodology are accompanied by case studies discussing particular episodes in economic history.