Cowen on H.A. Innis

14 07 2011

Over on the Marginal Revolution blog, Tyler Cowen has posted about Harold Adams Innis, calling him an “underappreciated economist”. Frequent readers of this blog will know that I have posted about Innis before. There is a good short bio of Innis here. Alexander Watson published a full-length bio of Innis in 2006.

Cowen wrote: Most of all, Innis is worried about commodity and resource-based growth.  Five or ten years from now, will Canadians, Australians, and Brazilians be talking about Harold Innis as we do Hyman Minsky?

Cowen is suggesting that the prosperity these three commodity-rich countries are currently enjoying may be short lived. Following the 2008 GFC, many Americans started reading Hyman Minsky again: in the 1980s, Minsky had warned against deregulation and the financialization of US business on the grounds that it would lead to be a bubble. Now Minsky seems prophetic.

My Teaching This Week

30 09 2009

Undergraduate Teaching:

This week, I gave two lectures to students my first-year survey course on pre-Confederation history. Monday’s lecture was on the social and economic institutions of New France. Wednesday’s lecture was on the Seven Years’ War and the Conquest of New France by the British. Next week, I shall be speaking about the American Revolution and its impact on present-day Canada.

In my fourth-year seminar on mid-19th century British North America, our focus this week was on Newfoundland in the 1840s and 1850s. The readings for the seminar included Getrude E. Gunn, The Political History of Newfoundland, 1832-1864 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1966), (selected pages); Sean T. Cadigan “The Moral Economy of the Commons: Ecology and Equity in the Newfoundland Cod Fishery, 1815-1855,” Labour/Le Travail 43 (1999): 9-42; and the entry for Philip Francis Little in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography. (Little was the first Premier of Newfoundland after Responsible Government came in).

These readings generated a lively discussion of Newfoundland’s place in the North Atlantic world,  the achievement of Responsible Government in Newfoundland and environmental history. We also had a very good discussion of the concept of the tragedy of the commons and how it can be applied to the study of history. I also distributed copies of a primary source (a 1854 letter from London to Newfoundland’s Governor) in the seminar and asked students to analyze and discuss it. Next week, the seminar shall be discussing economic change in the Province of Canada in the 1840s and 1850s.

I don’t know if I will assign the article by Cadigan again. It’s a very good article, but maybe not appropriate for students lacking the right background knowledge.

Graduate Teaching:

I also met with one of our graduate students to discuss her project on the fur trade. (Her master’s project involves looking at the records of a particular HBC trading post in northern Ontario). We discussed two secondary sources related to her research project, Harold A. Innis, The Fur Trade in Canada: an Introduction to Canadian Economic History (3rd edition, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999) and E.E. Rich, Hudson’s Bay Company, 1670-1870 (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1960). We had a wide-ranging discussion that touched on the changing nature of economic history, the influence of Innis, historians’ depictions of Natives, and the impact of cultural differences on culture. At our next meeting, we shall discuss the more modern secondary literature on the fur trade. I’m enjoying working this very dedicated and intelligent student.