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Economic History Online for Teachers, Parts 1 & 2


Economic History Online for Teachers (EHOFT) is designed for history teachers who want to incorporate the economic perspective or to address economics content standards in American History courses. The lessons and materials are drawn from the FTE’s popular Economic History for Leaders summer programs for teachers and students. The course introduces and applies the “economic way of thinking.”

Paul Heyne, originator of the phrase and author of a widely used textbook bearing that title, defined the “economic way of thinking” as:

” . . .  a perspective on human decisions and social transactions . . . that emerges from the presupposition that all social phenomena result from interactions among the choices that individuals make after calculating the expected benefits and costs to themselves”.


In simpler terms, Heyne contends that people choose and that social phenomena emerge from their choices. With this insight, he takes us outside our stereotypical conception of the dismal science as the study of money, banking, and complicated graphs, and invites us to consider that the “economic way of thinking” is valuable in a larger sense – as a set of critical thinking skills. In this course, we’ll take our economics reasoning tool kit just next door – to the U.S. History classroom.  “Social phenomena” is the focus of historical study, and it’s reasonable to consider that the study and teaching of history might benefit by adding the economic way of thinking to the multiple lenses through which historians examine the record of human action and interaction.

Indeed, the FTE believes that the economic way of thinking, like all critical thinking skills, is useful in a variety of disciplines and contexts. In our flagship Economics for Leaders curriculum, we apply economic reasoning to contemporary issues. In Economic History for Leaders (and Economic History Online for Teachers) we’ve changed the focus from the present to the past in order to examine the processes by which individuals, groups, and nations have changed through time.

History textbooks often present social change abstractly, as the result of mysterious “forces” that shape lives and civilizations, fostering students’ sense that things had to turn out the way they did and that people and nations are relatively powerless to shape their destinies. The economic way of thinking suggests otherwise.  It offers us a mental tool-kit for analyzing how history is shaped by people and the choices they make.

EHOFT examines a selection of social phenomena from American history, adopting as its operative hypothesis the proposition that:

All social phenomena emerge from the choices that individuals make in response to expected costs and benefits to themselves.

Each lesson will demonstrate the use of one or more of the 5 ERPs (economic reasoning propositions) within the context of a particular episode or era, ranging from populating the colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries, through westward movement in the 19th century, to social upheaval in the 20th.

Topics include:

  • The Economic Way of Thinking:  Economic Reasoning as a tool of historical inquiry
  • Choice and Opportunity Cost:  Economic Reasoning Propositions 1 & 2  (Indentured Servitude, Immigration)
  • Incentives:  Economic Reasoning Proposition 3   (Frontier, Settling the West, Cattle Drives)
  • Institutions:  Economic Reasoning Proposition 4  (The Great Migration, Civil Rights)

Note:  purchase or rental of 2 textbooks required

Fees: $175 FTE registration

(optional) Credit: 2 sem. hrs. graduate credit, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs.  (Fee: $244, payable directly to UCCS online after course start)