Historian Awarded Botstiber Fellowship

From the March 2015 Desktop News | Dr. Janek Wasserman, assistant professor in the Department of History, has received a fellowship from the Botstiber Institute for Austrian-American Studies that is allowing him to spend the current semester and summer of 2015 conducting research abroad for his next book, tentatively titled “From Coffeehouse to Tea Party: An Intellectual History of the Austrian School of Economics.”

The book follows the story of one of the most important schools of 20th-century economic thought, the Austrian School, which originated in Vienna and has since been absorbed into American and Western European political and economic discussions. The school emphasized the importance of individual needs, wants and actions in economics.

Looking at a wide array of actors, including economists, intellectual and political organizations, think tanks, and policy groups, the project explores how this small group of thinkers developed and changed their ideas over time while also transforming the political and intellectual world around them, Wasserman said.

“This book is a natural extension of my earlier work on interwar Austrian intellectual life,” he said. “First, it explores a group of thinkers who did not fit neatly into my earlier study. Austrian liberals like these economists struggled to fit in during the interwar period, which was dominated by socialists and conservatives. Second, it carries my interest in Austrian ideas and intellectuals forward into the post-World War II world.

“What’s so fascinating about this group is that despite their largely successful assimilation into new cultures, they still remained committed to many of the ideas and approaches they developed long before emigration. It is also intriguing to see how Americans today will continue to invoke Austrian names decades after many of these figures have passed away.”

As part of the fellowship, Wasserman has traveled to Durham, North Carolina, and Palo Alto, California, to conduct research.

“Duke University and the Hoover Institution have the two largest collections of papers by Austrian economists anywhere,” he said. “I have been looking at diaries, letters, speeches, manuscripts, and monographs primarily.”

The diaries and letters have been the most interesting, he said, adding additional dimensions to the economists’ published work by also showing what they thought and talked about.

“They developed their ideas through correspondence and interaction, which doesn’t always come through in published materials,” he said. “You also get a better sense of the personalities involved and their aims and ambitions by diving into these archival sources.”

Wasserman’s next stops are New York City and Vienna. After the fellowship, he will likely travel to Freiburg, Germany; London, England; Florence, Italy; Geneva, Switzerland; and Boston, Massachusetts.

“For historians, fellowships are an indispensable part of our research and work,” Wasserman said. “While there are more and more materials available online these days, the vast majority of our sources still reside in archives scattered across the globe. It is nearly impossible to do intensive primary source research without the time and resources to travel. I am greatly appreciative of the Botstiber Institute and the College of Arts and Sciences for allowing me to devote eight uninterrupted months to research.”