Written & submitted by Professor Gregory Burge, Department Chair & Professor of Economics, University of Oklahoma
It was a beautiful sunny afternoon on July 15th, 2021 – but for the 17 University of Oklahoma students completing a month long Study Abroad trip – it may as well have been 1828! As the students walked the streets of the Bloomsbury District, led by Dr. Ramin Nassehi, they were taken on an exciting intellectual journey back in time, learning the history of the UCL Economics Department and its close connections to the development of the theory and practice of the Social Sciences.
Dr. Ramin was engaging, energetic, and truly excellent. The walking tour was a masterfully crafted experience that the OU Student Group will never forget! They learned how the department’s early days were driven by scholars including Jeremy Bentham, David Ricardo, and William Stanley Jevons – and how the UCL Economics Department developed the reputation for caring about the “working man”, whereas departments at Cambridge and Oxford maintained reputations highly integrated with nobility and other social elites. Seeing the iconic Jeremy Bentham recreation in the UCL Student Center was a highlight of the tour.
The tour stressed that while UCL Economics developed an early reputation of fighting for the working man, these efforts quickly expanded and started to encompass a pioneering spirit that championed women’s right and the power of educating female scholars. Stories about Eliza Orme, Sophie Bryant, and Clara Collet fascinated our group – who seemed particularly interested in Ms. Collet’s experience of being the first woman to deliver a lecture to UCL students in the year 1902. None of us had known that UCL was so many years ahead of Oxford and Cambridge in terms of enrolling, graduating, and employing female scholars – what a great piece of knowledge to pick up on a walking tour!
Another highlight was the discussion of “Keynesian Business Cycles” – not held in a dimly lit classroom – but held directly in front of the great scholar’s former residence on a glorious London summer day! How exciting! One wonder’s if Keynes’s legendary and meticulously accurate calculations were ever disrupted by a drunkard stumbling noisily down the very sidewalk upon which we stood as we listened to his story being told! This paired with stories of the legendary earlier scholar Karl Marx and how he studied and wrote in the halls of the British Museum and British Library – both just a few short blocks away!
Students were also challenged to think on their own, and to engage with the narrative – a great strength of the walking tour. At one point they were asked what they thought about Apple spending a massive investment into a technology that would eventually produce the technology for making phones without any labor involved – the whole ‘machines making other machines’ ides. Should Apple make the investment and why or why not? The rate of return on other investments in marketing and branding were discussed as alternatives establishing high opportunity costs for this choice!
By the end of the walking tour provided by Dr. Nassehi, we all felt more knowledgeable about the economic history that surrounded the Bloomsbury area, and the many interesting ways that history tapped directly into the University College London Economics Department. Well done to Dr. Nassehi and the UCL team for giving these 17 University of Oklahoma students a highlight of their trip! Many thanks & keep up the good work!