Takeaways from my MPhil dissertation

The last academic year was a whirlwind dominated by researching, writing, editing, and submitting my MPhil dissertation, "Normal Science and Anomaly: Responding to Unemployment in Economics in the 1920s." My motivation for the work was to explore the relationship between empirical evidence and economic theory, which is important for understanding how academic economic research relates to the "real world" -- a perennially interesting question.

To get at these bigger questions, I did a case study of a specific historical episode: persistently high unemployment in Britain in the 1920s. Unlike the United States and some other European countries, Britain experienced high unemployment (on average 12%) for the years preceding the early 1930s Great Depression…

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Using regular expressions to clean and process OCR data

This is a write-up of a script I wrote for my RA work, demonstrating how regular expressions in Python can be used to clean and process OCR text with many errors in order to generate a workable dataset. The goal in this specific example is to clean US Senate testimony to make a dataset listing the speaker in one column with their testimony in the next column. I also show how to categorize the comments by the section of testimony they are in and how to give an index for those sections. The script is available on GitHub.

The script as written requires an input file called "V1". In this case, the file is OCRd text of Senate testimony from 1913. The text delineates the speaker at the start of each comment (e.g. "Senator Gallinger") and then gives the comment. There are also various section breaks (e.g. "TESTIMONY OF TRUMAN G. PALMER—Continued."). These comments and section breaks are the text data we are interested in...

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Wikipedia search for historical firm founding date (Python)

For my RA work this summer, I developed this Python script which links a historical firm to its suggested Wikipedia information in order to predict the firm's founding date. Here is a quick write-up on the script, which is available on GitHub.

The script as written requires an input file called "CompanyList". This file should be utf-16 encoded .txt file. The file should contain a list of the companies to be searched, with one company on each line.

The output file will be a utf-8 encoded .txt file called "WikipediaFoundingDates". You can initialize this file beforehand by creating a blank .txt file of this name. After the script runs, the updated file will have a semicolon-separated list that can be easily imported into other software for analysis...


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Pairing voices with the data: deep dives into responses from the 1911 NCF survey

This summer I explored the National Civic Federation 1911 survey of labor and business leaders in my RA work for a Politics professor at Oxford. Though I ended up programming for most of my work, I did have reason to look into some of the smaller firms more deeply. Throughout the process, I collected links to blogs, articles, and websites about some of these firms that I found particularly interesting. Below, I offer links to these external sources, pairing them with the response to the questions on the Sherman Anti-Trust Act given in my survey data. If you love minutiae, dive in!

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The interesting life of Alfred Mummery

An economist and a mountain climber? The perfect nineteenth century combination! Alfred Mummery built his mountain climbing reputation on the Matterhorn and led the first team to attempt to climb the 8126m Nanga Parbat in the Himalayas. This fatal attempt was in 1895, and Nanga Parbat would take 30 more lives before it was successfully summited in 1953.

Mummery also co-authored The Physiology of Industry in 1889 with economist J.A. Hobson, the famous proponent of under-consumptionist theories. This was a notable contribution to heterodox economics at the time, and J.M. Keynes discussed the work at length in the General Theory chapter 23 (which apparently nobody reads these days). Keynes offers an extended quote from Hobson about how they came to work together...

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J.M. Keynes's The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money

The General Theory is a classic, and rightly so. That said, the book is dense, and Keynes's writing is occasionally unclear. After a close reading this summer, I wanted to share the notes I took on the work to offer a sort of "guide" to the text. The notes are straightforward summaries and extended quotes with little commentary. For good commentary on the work, I recommend Mark Blaug's guide in Economic Theory in Retrospect, as well as Paul Krugman's introduction to the General Theory here.

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A brief history of building societies

I really enjoyed learning about building societies this spring, which are a classic British banking institution I was unfamiliar with before I crossed the pond. Here are some (edited) notes I took during my studies offering a short history of building societies (and elaborating why I think they are so cool!)

Building societies formed as a type of friendly society in the late eighteenth century. Their purpose was to provide members with homes by pooling member savings deposits to provide mortgage loans for tenured members, many of whom were working class. Friendly societies were recognized legally in 1793 and were considered separately under the law from joint-stock corporations, who were limited at the time by the 1720 Bubble Act. Building societies were treated as a type of friendly society under the law until they were officially recognized in the 1836 Regulation of Building Societies Act...

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Make your own bibliography style in LaTeX

If the many multitudes of LaTeX bibtex* bibliography styles don't suit you, never fear! It's easy and exciting to make your own bibliography style (.bst) in just a couple of minutes, or even hours if you really get into it! Here's how I did it:


  • A Unix computer (e.g. a Mac)
  • With MacTeX installed (MacTeX is the free LaTeX distribution for Macs)
  • A passion for procrastination and tedium...
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Note-taking on readings for graduate school

One of the most difficult aspects of the transition from undergraduate work to graduate work has been the massive increase in papers and books I have to read for class. After talking with my coursemates and exploring methods suggested on the internet, I developed this simple note-taking "grid" to use to standardize the information I collect from the various readings I do. The main point of the grid is to make reading more efficient (i.e. to prevent me from taking notes on every little thing, which is my default), to focus attention on deeper questions about the work, and to neatly keep track of the connections between readings. Feel free to download and edit this for your own use if you think it might be helpful!

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