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Harvard. Edward Chamberlin Lobbies to Teach a Graduate Theory Course. 1935



With the retirements of Charles J. Bullock and Frank W. Taussig in 1935 Edward H. Chamberlin saw his opportunity to start to break out of his designated field box “government and industry” and into “theory”. We have here a letter that Chamberlin wrote to the head of the economics department, Harold H. Burbank. The letter is of the putting-this-conversation-into-the-written-record variety. His deference to Burbank and recognition of the established claims of other colleagues to the theory field are complemented with a dash of false-modesty—“Perhaps I may, however,…put in my own ‘claim’ (if such it may be called) for whatever consideration it deserves.”

In any event, from the subsequent shuffle in instructional assignments for the 1935-36 academic year, we see that Chamberlin succeeded in joining Schumpeter and Leontief at the Harvard theory table.


Letter from Associate Professor Chamberlin to Chairman Burbank
Requesting to teach a graduate course in theory



14 Ash Street
Cambridge, Massachusetts
February 26, 1935

Professor H. H. Burbank, Chairman
Department of Economics,
Harvard University,
Cambridge, Mass.


Dear Burby:

This is to confirm our conversation of the other day. I should like to ask if arrangements could possibly be made at this late date for me to give a graduate half course next year on “Contemporary Value Theory.”

I have been asked by several people recently why it was that, although the theoretical problems which Mrs. Robinson and myself have raised are the subject of lively controversies in numerous other universities, one finds them very much in the background at Harvard. There does seem to be a general interest in the subject, and, since I have a strong continuing interest in it myself, the occasion seems to present itself of offering to graduate students at Harvard a better opportunity than they now have to study and discuss this set of problems and others related to it.

I realize that others than myself have claims to theory courses and that the problems of fitting the members of the Department to courses are not easy. Perhaps I may, however, even for this very reason, put in my own “claim” (if such it may be called) for whatever consideration it deserves. My work in Public Utilities and Industrial Organization could be reduced without difficulty. Donald Wallace could take my part in Economics 49 with Professors Crum and Mason, and, I am sure, would do an excellent job of it. This arrangement, together with a slight reduction in my tutorial load, would give me the time for another half course and I should continue in the undergraduate 4a and 4c. I should have, even then, only one-fifth of my time in theory, the other four fifths in the practical field of government and industry.

You have recently intimated in conversation that I might soon be given a share of the work in theory. I hope it may be next year, and also that a way can be found to arrange for it without interfering with the work which others are now doing or plan to do in the field.

Sincerely yours,
Edward H. Chamberlin


Copy of letter from Chairman Burbank to Dean Murdock
with changes to 1935-36 course announcements

April 17, 1935

Dear Dean Murdock,

Owing to the retirement of Professor Taussig, several changes in the Course Announcement for the coming year will have to be made. The Department recommends the following:

*Economics 7b1. Theories of Value and Distribution. [listed as “Modern Economic Thought” in Report of the President of Harvard College 1935-36, p. 82; ]

Half-course (first half-year). Mon., Wed., and (at the pleasure of the instructor) Fri., at 11. Associate Professor Chamberlin.
[Replacing Taussig, Schumpeter and Sweezy who taught in 1934-35]

Economics 8a2. Introduction to the Mathematical Treatment of Economics.

Half-course (second half-year). Mon., 4-5. Asst. Professor Leontief.
[Replacing Schumpeter who taught in 1934-35]

Economics 11. Economic Theory.

Mon., Wed., Fri., at 2. Professor Schumpeter.
[Replacing Taussig and Schumpeter who taught in 1934-35]

Economics 14b2. History of Economic Thought since 1776.

Half-course (second half-year). Mon., Wed., Fri., at 11. Dr. Monroe.
[Replacing “History and Literature of Economics from the Physiocrats through Ricardo” taught by Professor Bullock in 1934-35. Bullock retired from Harvard September 1, 1935.]

Sincerely yours,

H. H. Burbank

Dean Kenneth B. Murdock
20 University Hall



Source: Harvard University Archives, Department of Economics, Correspondence & Papers 1902-1950. Box 23, Folder “Course offerings 1926-1937”.

Image Source: Harvard Class Album, 1939.

Irwin Collier

Posted by: Irwin Collier