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Teaching development economics with historical perspectives: a case of curriculum diversification

Daniela Tavasci profile picture

Dr Daniela Tavasci

Reader In Economics & Finance

Use of the teaching approach known as Teaching with Historical Perspectives helps learners to understand how sharecropping developed historically, and how it was overcome in the developed world. It also shows how economists’ understanding can be contextualised historically.

Responding to a need

Sharecropping, the system in which the landlord allows a tenant to use the land in exchange for a share of the crop, has been a longstanding bone of contention.

Four decades ago, Stiglits’ (1986) neoclassical “New Development Economics” claimed that it was an efficient response to asymmetric information. Badhuri (1986) presented an alternative view to explain sharecropping which emphasised interlocking exchanges in the various markets which tenants were forced into.

Teaching with Historical Perspectives is a teaching approach that assumes that theories evolve as a result of both real issues and debates within various scientific fields

The approach

This approach introduces the two opposing views, based on different systems of thought, each with its own assumptions and methods of enquiry. These are historically contextualised as part of broader schools of thought. This allows for a number of reflections in the classroom and provides an exemplar of diversifying the curriculum in development economics.


The case provides two competing views on the origins of a widespread institution. It exposes students to the idea that there is a mainstream within a discipline (in economics this is traditionally neoclassical economics) and alternative views.   


The case clearly provides an example of how the curriculum and the reading list can be diversified to include different views.


The case supports educators and students to:

i)    Acknowledge values as part of Economics
Acknowledging that power and privilege are inherent concepts in all societies, and any inquiry into society (including how that society operates economically) must consider power relations and how some groups are privileged over others. It recognises that historical forces have long-standing effects on societies that still need addressing today, including racism, sexism, elitism, homophobia and other forms of prejudice, and that the object of study can be to further resolve social injustices.

ii)    Treat equally African, Asian, American, Australasian and European philosophy, methods, lived experiences, resources, readings and writings in the curriculum.

iii)    Take a critical, real-world approach, which includes the perspectives of marginalised people on the economy.

iv)    Be self-reflective and ask how we are taught about the world.

How the history of a discipline is a route to a diversified curriculum

Teaching with Historical Perspectives (THP) is a teaching approach that assumes that theories evolve as a result of both real issues and debates within various scientific fields. THP presents various historical perspectives to real problems, allowing a teacher to move beyond the static categorisations of standard textbooks and to take a pluralistic approach by exposing students to how academic disciplines have changed throughout their history not only in terms of content but also in terms of methodology, questions asked, and problems faced.

In this respect, then, THP provides a context and an experience of teaching and learning with authenticity and pluralism. Thus, it not only engages students in the classroom; it also helps them to develop the problem-solving and debating skills that are so essential for any professional.

THP is a historically framed route to a diverse and authentically inclusive curriculum.

THP can be seen as an adaptation of standard Problem Based Learning, based on the idea that students are presented with the same problems of the past so that they are enabled to retrace historical interpretations, solutions and policy prescriptions. Each economic theory then is not just a model taken from the textbook, it is a solution that one specific past thinker/scientist produced in response to a specific real economic problem. However, the interpretations of some issues might be controversial and might have triggered debates within the discipline. So students might be presented with various interpretations and solutions to the very same problem.

  • First, this approach, presents fosters pluralism in teaching and exposes students to debates. In doing so it is a route to diversification of the curriculum.
  • Second, it provides a (historical) and logical structure to a module.
  • Third, it contextualises the discipline and the specific issues and concepts that are addressed, and promotes active learning.

Watch the lightening talk

Teaching with Historical Perspectives - Daniela Tavasci and Luigi Ventimiglia

Dr Daniela Tavasci

Reader in Economics and Finance

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