Mark Perlman: Influential historian of economic thought, dies

Historians in the News

Mark Perlman was an influential historian of economic thought, the co-author with Charles McCann Jnr of The Pillars of Economic Understanding - the first volume published under the subtitle "Ideas and Traditions" (1998), the second as "Factors and Markets" (2000). He was also the founding editor ofthe Journal of Economic Literature, a leader in its genre, and created a journal for the US De-partmentofState, PortfolioonInterna-tionalEconomic Perspectives, as well as a journal for the Schumpeter Society, the Journal of Evolutionary Economics.

His first speciality had been labour economics. His doctoral dissertation on labour arbitration in Australia, published as Judges in Industry (1954), is still much cited, second only in importance to ANew Province for Law and Order (1922), the articles of Henry Bournes Higgins, the judge who drafted the early law. Perlman's later work on the subject included Labor Union Theories in America: background and development (1958) and The Machinists: a new study in American trade Unionism (1961).

Mark Perlman was born in 1923 in Madison, Wisconsin, the son of Selig Perlman, a Polish ZmigrZ and himself a distinguished labour historian at the University of Wisconsin. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin in 1947, Mark took his PhD at Columbia University in 1950. He first taught at Cornell and Johns Hopkins universities before being appointed to a permanent professorship at the University of Pittsburgh in 1963, a post that he occupied for three decades.

It was fascinating to listen to him discourse about his upbringing in a highly intellectual household, of having met, as a young boy, Alfred Einstein and other academic luminaries. Most ofthe great economists and many of the leading historians and philosophers ofthe 20th century were known to him. He brought this breadth of outlook to his teaching, preferring to provide undergraduates with broad-based instruction in the liberal arts before proceeding to the discipline of economics. His autobiographical essay, "What Makes My Mind Tick", in his selected essays, The Character of Economic Thought, Economic Characters, and Economic Institutions (1996), is particularly stimulating.

Perlman was a great anglophile, who often talked of his rewarding period as an official faculty visitor and visiting fellow at Clare Hall, Cambridge, in 1976-77. He and his wife Naomi delighted to entertain their English friends and colleagues at the Athenaeum Club in London during their frequent visits to the UK. For many years Perlman was a much-appreciated co-editor ofthe Cambridge University Surveys of Economic Literature (1977-96) and the Cambridge Surveys in Economic Politics and Institutions (1991-95).

comments powered by Disqus