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Economics for the Masses: The Visual Display of Economic Knowledge in the United States, 1910-45

Yann Giraud () and Loïc Charles ()

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Abstract: The rise of visual representation in textbooks is an important feature of the development of the economics discipline after World War II. We argue that it was preceded by a no less significant rise of visual representation in the larger literature devoted to social and scientific issues. During the interwar period, editors, propagandists, and social scientists encouraged the use of visual language as an important means of spreading information and opinions about the economy to a larger audience. We explore different yet related aspects of this development by studying the use of visual language in economics textbooks intended for nonspecialists, in periodicals such as the Survey (a monthly magazine intended for an audience of social workers), and by various state departments and agencies during the Roosevelt administration. We focus on two types of visuals that developed rapidly and had a strong relationship with the social sciences in this period: photographs and pictorial statistics. In the last part, we discuss how visualizations that were created as part of a critical program of more abstract forms of social theorizing (e.g., classical and marginal political economy) were transformed into an engine for New Deal political propaganda in the 1930s.

Date: 2013-12-01
Note: View the original document on HAL open archive server: https://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-00870417
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Published in History of Political Economy, Duke University Press, 2013, 45 (4), pp.467-612

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