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To paraphrase TS Eliot (maybe), good writers borrow, great writers steal. Let’s do the economic history
version of that.
Pick a paper on the syllabus. This could be a primary paper you were assigned to read or one of the additional
papers, but some of the more recent papers with identification strategies (IV or DD) and attempts to find
causality will work best for this assignment. You might want to limit yourself to papers from lectures we have
already had (that is, maybe don’t pick a paper in the Crime lecture from late November for the assignment
due in September?) but that is your choice.
What is a new outcome (Y) that you could look at with the same identification strategy (X)? Don’t just pick
an X and a Y randomly—think about why this would be an interesting question to answer. Hopefully, the
new question is really exciting and goes well beyond the original paper.
If you want to use a paper not on the syllabus, please ask me (via email) first.
Please write one page and answer all of the following:
1. Describe the identification strategy in the original paper. Is it instrumental variables or difference in
differences or something else? What do the authors assume or use to get causality in their estimates?
What is the original result or finding?
2. What new question or outcome can you look at with this old identification strategy? Be specific as to
why this is a question worth asking and trying to answer. Pose your question as clearly and succinctly
3. What kind of data would you need to carry out the research? Presumably the X variables might all
come from the original paper but how would you measure the new outcomes you are interested in? If
measurement of the Y variables is obvious, state them as clearly as possible. If measurement of the Y
variables is tricky or novel or complicated, do you best to describe how you would measure things. Be
sure to clarify the level of your analysis (individuals, cities, states, countries, areas, etc), though this
will likely match that of the original paper.
Examples from Our Syllabus and My Work
• My work on lead and crime uses two identification strategies: distance from lead refineries and the
interaction of lead pipes and acidic water. The later we draw from previous work by Werner Troesken
and others who used the lead and pH interaction to study the effects of lead exposure on infant mortality
and other health outcomes.
• My work on the effects of the boll weevil exploits the same differences in differences strategy that Lange
et al (and other papers like Ager et al) used to study how the cotton-eating pest affected southern
• Nathan Nunn wrote the original slave trade paper using distance to slave demand markets as the
instrumental variable. Many papers since then have shown other effects of the slave trade (on trust,
on culture, on gender roles, on marriage patterns, etc), all using the same or a similar identification
• Hornbeck and Keskin study the effects of irrigation via the Ogallala aquifer on economic outcomes.
Dasgupta uses the same identification strategy to study political effects of farming
Long Run Development: Colonialism and Institutions
Acemoglu, Daron, Simon Johnson, and James Robinson. 2001. “The Colonial Origins of Comparative Development: An Empirical Investigation.” American Economic Review https://www.aeaweb.org/articles?id=10.1257/aer.91.5.1369
Dell, Melissa. 2010. “The Persistent Effects of Peru’s Mining Mita.” Econometrica http://www.jstor.org/stable/40928464
Nunn, Nathan. 2008. “Slavery, Inequality, and Economic Development in the Americas.” In Institutions and Economic Performance https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/nunn/files/domestic_slavery.pdf
Michalopoulos, Stelios and Elias Pappaioannou. 2016. “The Long-Run Effects of the Scramble for Africa.” American Economic Review https://www-aeaweb-org.ezproxy.bu.edu/articles?id=10.1257/aer.20131311
Long Run Development: Culture and Path Dependence
Alesina, Alberto, Paola Giuliano, and Nathan Nunn. 2013. “On the origins of gender roles: Women and the plough.” Quarterly Journal of Economics https://academic.oup.com/qje/article-abstract/128/2/469/1943509
Giuliano, Paola and Nathan Nunn. 2021. “Understanding Cultural Persistence and Change.” Review of Economic Studies https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/nunn/files/giuliano_nunn_restud_2021.pdf
Bleakley, Hoyt and Jeffrey Lin. 2012. “Portage and Path Dependence.” Quarterly Journal of Economics https://academic.oup.com/qje/article-abstract/127/2/587/1825072.
Voigtlaender, Nico and Hans-Joachim Voth. 2012. “Persecution perpetuated: The medieval origins of anti-Semitic violence in Nazi Germany.” Quarterly Journal of Economics https://academic.oup.com/qje/article-abstract/127/3/1339/1922392
Slavery: Effects on Africa
Nunn, Nathan. 2008. “The Long-term Effects of Africa’s Slave Trades.” Quarterly Journal of Economics https://academic.oup.com/qje/article-abstract/123/1/139/1889789
Nunn, Nathan and Leonard Wantchekon. 2011. “The Slave Trade and the Origins of Mistrust in Africa.” American Economic Review http://www.jstor.org/stable/41408736
Nunn, Nathan and Diego Puga. 2012. “Ruggedness: The Blessing of Bad Geography in Africa.” Review of Economics and Statistics https://doi.org/10.1162/REST_a_00161
Teso, Edoardo. 2018. “The Long-Term Effect of Demographic Shocks on the Evolution of Gender Roles: Evidence from the transatlantic Slave Trade.” Journal of the European Economic Association https://doi-org.ezproxy.bu.edu/10.1093/jeea/jvy010
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