January 07, 2012
By Scott Nielson
Editor’s Note: Scott Nielson, a senior undergraduate student at BYU, is blogging for the AHA about his experiences attending the 126th annual meeting. He has also been helping assist AHA staff in various areas around the meeting. See his first post here.
Friday morning started for me at 7:30 in the Sheraton, where I welcomed graduate students and professors attending the Committee on Minority Historians Mentoring Breakfast. Later that morning I headed over to the Marriott to attend an American Economic History Association session entitled “A Discussion of Before and Beyond Divergence: The Politics of Economic Change in China and Europe by Jean-Laurent Rosenthal and R. Bin Wong.”
As the session title indicates, the discussion centered on Rosenthal and Wong’s 2011 book, which endeavors to explain why China and Europe followed different economic paths over the past few hundred years. After the various panelists had taken time to explain their central arguments, a rather lively discussion ensued. One audience member wondered out loud why we were even making the comparison, while others obliquely suggested Rosenthal and Wong’s work may have been somewhat of an oversimplification. Wong, the director of the UCLA Asia Institute, explained that the recent economic rise of China made the question relevant, that at least some level of generalization is necessary and inevitable to make such comparisons, and that, the generalizations notwithstanding, he and his colleague Rosenthal were confident in the economic model they used to produce their results.
John Wallis, economics professor at the University of Maryland, College Park, commented on the methodology employed in the book, noting that the most credible results would need to be based on broad-ranging data samples. He humorously noted that he needed to stop reviewing books so he could enjoy them without having to agonize over the robustness of their economic analyses.
After taking a short early afternoon walk to nearby Millennium Park, I returned to the Sheraton to work in the Exhibit Hall, meeting with a few of my BYU professors there and discussing the conference with local graduate students.