Ross Emmett

RIP: Warren J. Samuels, 1933-2011

The following was posted on the SHOE email list earlier today.

Warren Samuels passed away yesterday at his home in Gainesville, Florida. Warren was an eminent historian of economic thought, whose work ranged across the field’s breadth. His first published works in the field were a pair of articles on the physiocratic system (published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics) that served to reshape thinking about the physiocratic view of the economic role of the state. On the other end of the time spectrum, he was a pioneer in doing and encouraging work on the history of post-war economics. This breadth of scholarship is exemplified nicely in the book that he completed not long before his death, Erasing the Invisible Hand: Essays on an Elusive and Misguided Concept in Economics, which was brought to completion with the assistance of Marianne Johnson and will be released by Cambridge University Press in September. We’ve suffered a great loss as an intellectual community in his passing.

Many of you knew Warren well, so there is no need to rehearse at length his publications or his forays into many other areas of economics. Warren was one of the first historians of economics to treat the history of economics as a branch of intellectual history. This was, for him, a part of the larger intellectual conversation about the role of governments and markets in modern society that was his lifelong pursuit. His well-known studies of policy in classical economics (The Classical Theory of Economic Policy) and in Pareto (Pareto on Policy) were major contributions to that discussion. His perspective had a significant effect on the students who studied with him over the years, and on those of us who were the recipients of his comments and advice at conferences and via correspondence.

From the outset of his career, Warren recognized the importance to the intellectual historian of correspondence, course notes, unpublished manuscripts, public lectures, etc. What we now collectively refer to as archival materials. Not only did he promote the use of these materials in historical research, but he also amassed an extensive personal collection of these materials, which he began to publish in 1989 in archival supplements to Research in the History of Economic Thought & Methodology. The very first supplement contained the notes he had obtained from economist Robert L. Hale and Sinologist Homer H. Dubs of John Dewey’s course on Moral and Political Philosophy at Columbia University. The second supplement contains the only authorized publication of Frank Knight’s infamous lecture on “The Case for Communism.” Warren and George Stigler went back and forth for some time regarding the publication of that piece! Dewey and Knight were, perhaps not surprisingly, two of Warren’s intellectual heroes. The materials he amassed will continue to be published in the research annual for many years to come. His collection of photographs of economists is already available online from the Center for the History of Political Economy at Duke University.

Warren was also a tireless editor of volumes that touched upon almost any aspect of his wider interests. I have lined up on my bookshelf over 80 volumes that he edited on the history of economics, economic methodology, or recent economic thought. Mine is probably not a complete set! All of these were undertaken to encourage scholarship in areas that interested him (and, by extension, which he thought would interest others). Many of them are also the means by which he encouraged the work of young scholars.

Many of us experienced his generosity to students, young scholars and anyone else who wanted to join the great conversation. His goal and passion was to broaden and enrich that conversation, and he was as happy to engage in conversation with a young scholar as he was with a Nobel laureate. To that end, he and Sylvia made a substantial contribution to the History of Economics Society to endow its Young Scholars program.

Among the many professional societies to which he belonged, the History of Economics Society was always the one closest to Warren’s heart. He was a founding member of the Society, and served as its 8th President. The Society honored him in 1997 with its Distinguished Fellow award; two years earlier he was the recipient of the Association for Evolutionary Economics Veblen-Commons Award. He was the long-time editor of the Journal of Economic Issues and the founding editor of Research in the History of Economic Thought & Methodology.

I wish to acknowledge the helpful advice I received from Jeff Biddle, Marianne Johnson and Steve Medema.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, August 18th, 2011 at 11:32 am and is filed under History of Economics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

13 Responses to “RIP: Warren J. Samuels, 1933-2011”

  1. rossemmett says:

    Eric Schliesser’s blog entry on Warren Samuels:

  2. Terry Clague says:

    Very sad news. I was fortunate to work with – and meet – Warren Samuels who really was a gentleman and a scholar of the highest order. RIP.

  3. Rob Langham says:

    Very sad news but what a wonderful man Warren was – so encouraging and so lacking in arrogance. Fascinating to talk to on a range of topics, he really was someone to look up to. I remember a thunderous standing ovation for him at the HES meetings in Greensboro in 1999.

  4. David Ruccio’s brief comments on Warren’s generosity to him and an announcement of Warren’s book.

  5. rossemmett says:

    John Davis reminded me that there is a Warren J. Samuels prize at the Association for Social Economics, for the best paper presented at the Assocation’s January meetings (held in conjunction with ASSA meetings).

  6. rossemmett says:

    A note from some of the young scholars in the history of economics who have benefited from the Warren and Sylvia Samuels Young Scholars Fund at the History of Economics Society.

  7. rossemmett says:

    Tyler Cowen’s remarks about Warren at Marginal Revolution, with a number of comments as well:

  8. rossemmett says:

    Manuel Bautista reposted my tribute to Warren on the blog of the Asociación Mexicana de Historia Económica:

  9. Harvey Botwin says:

    I first met Warren Samuels as his student at the University of Miami in 1959. He was very hard on me, writing that I was a snotty rich kid who had only to work harder to reach a high potential; he “made me” as an academic. He soon became my very good friend, and he and Sylvia attended my wedding (still standing) in 1963. He supervised my Master’s thesis, ” An Analysis of the Present Structure and Status of Keynesian Economics”, also in 1963, and helped me to get into Princeton. This summer I came across a recent (and lengthy!) article of his where he wrote about me that “I never thought I could learn so much from a student,” so I called him to thank him tearfully and, in the conversation, found out that we still viewed the history of economic thought similarly. I also found out that( by coincidence?) we had the same physical problems, although he left me thinking that no problems were imminent. He passed away a few days later and, ever since I found out, I no longer feel whole.
    “Uncle Warren” was my mentor, a great scholar and a great man. He will be sorely missed and will not be forgotten.

  10. Ross Emmett says:

    Obituaries of Warren have (or are going to) appeared in the following journals:

    History of Political Economy (Steve Medema)
    European Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Vol. 19 No. 1 (February 2012) (John B. Davis)
    Research in the History of Economic Thought & Methododology, Vol. 30A (Ross Emmett)
    History of Economic Ideas, Vol. 19 No. 3 (2011)(Steve Medema)
    Journal of Income Distribution (Jeff Biddle)
    Review of Social Economy, Vol. 69 No. 4 (December 2011) (Zohreh Emami)

  11. Phil Timyan says:

    Thanks for posting about my favorite Economics professor of all time. My son is a current MSU freshman taking Econ 101 and I was describing my memorable experience in Dr Samuels’ graduate level class in 1985. I decided to Google him and was said to learn of his passing. I’d like to add that the man had the most wonderful sense of humor. I still retell some of his jokes all these years later. He was a man who truly cared about his students and what he was teaching them. RIP


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