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In 1887, Herbert Somerton Foxwell (1849-1936), chair of Economics at University College London, announced in the Quarterly Journal of Economics that an ‘economic journal’ was to be published in Britain, managed by a new ‘economic society’ (Coats, 1968, p.349). This announcement formalised a plan that had been discussed amongst leading economists for some time: to disseminate economic research through the publication of a journal. The plan, however, took another four years to be realised, culminating in the first issue of The Economic Journal published in March 1891.
Between the years of 1886 and 1890 there was much dialogue amongst respected British economists about the formation of a journal of economics. Sir Robert Harry Inglis Palgrave (1827-1919), Editor of the Economist, initially proposed setting up a society that specialised in publishing translations and reprints of scarce economic works. Foxwell however, had a more ambitious venture in mind; a quarterly journal of current scholarship equivalent to such publications as the Quarterly Journal of Economics and the Journal des Economistes. This type of publication, he argued, would enable British Economists to ‘fraternise’ with the likes of the American Economic Association (Coats, p.350).
Palgrave, Foxwell and Professor Alfred Marshall (1842-1924) of Cambridge University first explored the possibility of establishing such a publication as part of the Royal Statistical Society. After discussions with the society, however, it was concluded that a new organisation should be inaugurated to pursue these aims (Coats, p.351-2). This decision was supported by the economist and philosopher John Neville Keynes (1852-1949) (Coats, p.353).
The founding members decided that an economic society should be created that was open to all those with an interest in economics, be they politicians, policy makers, scholars or laymen. The journal would follow a similar attitude of tolerance, publishing work from all areas of economic science with impartiality.
A scholarly journal that admitted wide ranging articles and reviews for publication required an unbiased and knowledgeable editor. Letters between Foxwell and Palgrave written around 1888 suggest that they hoped Keynes would edit the Journal, however he was unable to do so. Foxwell admitted that without Keynes, the choice of Editor was a difficult one:
…any number of men with strong views will volunteer, but these are just the persons we don’t want. We want cool heads, keen brains and impartial judgment. With these are required scholarship, information and if possible a knowledge of German. It seems to me a most difficult and delicate post. (Coats, p.353)
It was not until around 1890 that Francis Ysidro Edgeworth (1845-1926) was appointed as the first Editor of the Journal. Edgeworth held a Chair in Economics at King’s College London in 1888, and was appointed Drummond Professor of Political Economy at Oxford University in 1891. Despite his academic credentials, Edgeworth admitted the difficulty of establishing the new journal. He noted that after his appointment as editor:
I wrote to Marshall asking advice on every small difficulty which arose, until he protested that, if the correspondence was to go on at that rate, he would have to use envelopes with my address printed on them. (Coats, p.362)
Three years after Foxwell’s announcement, in November 1890, plans for an economic society and an associated publication were finalised, and the British Economic Association (to become the Royal Economic Society in 1902) was founded at University College London (Edgeworth, 1891, p.2). The central aim of the Association would be to publish a quarterly journal of economics, The Economic Journal. In a circular sent out before the inaugural meeting, Marshall indicated the significant impact this publication would have on British economic science:
…the need of an economic journal has long been felt in England. Every other country in which economic studies are pursued with great activity offers facilities for the publication of thorough scientific work… Englishmen (however)…are sometimes compelled to give their views to the world in the columns of a foreign periodical, or as a publication of the American Economic Association; but more frequently they put it aside till an opportunity should offer for working it out more fully and publishing it as a book; and that opportunity too often does not come. (Edgeworth, p.2)
His words attracted around 200 people to the opening meeting, (Edgeworth, p.3) a demonstration of both the growing interest in economic science in England and the consensus that there was a need for a society and publication to represent this field in Britain. In response to this support, the Society, once formed, wasted no time in following through with their publishing aims. The Economic Journal was published soon after the foundation of the Association, in March 1891.
The first issue of The Economic Journal laid out the aims and objectives of the society in disseminating works of economic scholarship. The journal would embrace economic papers of all persuasions to encourage scholarly debate. Edgeworth proudly wrote in the first edition of the journal:
The most opposite doctrines may meet here as on a fair field…Opposing theories of currency will be represented with equal impartiality. Nor will it be attempted to prescribe the method, any more than the result, of scientific investigation. (Edgeworth, p.1)
Edgeworth was true to his word. The early issues of the journal indicate the meticulous efforts of the editors to publish a wide range of views. Amongst the articles published in the early issues of the Journal were papers expressing socialist, individualist and Ruskinian views (Coats, p.362). The early insistence on publishing high quality works with impartiality and inclusivity has shaped The Economic Journal throughout its history through to the present day.
The Economic Journal benefitted from the dedicated and often long-term editorship of numerous well-respected economists. Edgeworth continued his work as editor until 1911, assisted between 1896 and 1905 by Henry Higgs (1864-1940), one of the founding members of the British Economic Association, and a key player in the application for Royal Charter in 1902. Edgeworth reprised his editorial role between 1918 and 1925 alongside John Maynard Keynes.
John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946), the leading economic theorist, civil service policy maker and the son of John Neville Keynes, took up the Editorial position between 1912 and 1944, ensuring the continued publication of the Journal through both the Great War and the Second World War. During his lengthy term he edited alongside the former student of Marshall and Professor of Political Economics at Leeds University D.H.Macgregor (Joint Editor between 1925 and 1933) and one of his own former students Austin Robinson (Assistant Editor 1934-1940).
The Editorship of Sir Austin Robinson (1897-1993) began in 1934 as an Assistant Editor and ended in 1970 as Editor. Robinson was a Government Adviser to the War Cabinet and the Board of Trade before returning to Cambridge as a lecturer. During his 36 year service for The Economic Journal, Robinson also served as secretary for the society. As commemoration for his dedicated service to The Economic Journal a prize is now offered in his honour for the best paper written by a recent PhD graduate.
The first female Editor of the Journal was the economist and economic historian Phyllis Deane (b.1918). Deane joined the Editorial Board in 1968, serving for seven years as Editor alongside economists including Austin Robinson and later the Cambridge Economist W.B.Reddaway (1913-2002). In her early career she worked at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research. From around 1950 to 1982 she held research and teaching positions at Cambridge, and was appointed Emeritus Professor of Economic History at her retirement. Deane also held the Presidency of the Royal Economic Society between 1980 and 1982.
Edgeworth and Keynes were the only Editors to shoulder the sole responsibility of The Economic Journal. As the journal grew in size and significance, so too did the Editorial Board. By the 1980s the EJ was publishing five issues a year, supervised by at least six editors. In 1991 this was increased to six issues a year and in 1999 the current format of eight issues per year was established. Today a group of seven Managing Editors oversee the submission and review of around 900 articles every year.
‘After Seven Years’, The Economic Journal, vol.8, no.29 (1898), 1-2
‘The Society’s Jubilee’, The Economic Journal, vol.50, no.200 (1940), 401-9
Coats, A.W. ‘The Origins and Early Development of the Royal Economic Society’, Economic Journal, vol. 68, no. 310 (1968), 349-371
Edgeworth, ‘The British Economic Association’, The Economic Journal, vol.1, no.1 (1989), pp.1-14
Cairncross, Alec, ‘Austin Robinson’, The Economic Journal, vol.104, no.425 (1994), 903-915
Collet, Clara, ‘Herbert Somerton Foxwell’, The Economic Journal, vol.46, no.184 (1936), 589-619
Collet, Clara and Webster, Charles, ‘Obituary: Henry Higgs’, The Economic Journal, vol.50, no.200 (1940), 546-572
Keynes, J.M. ‘Alfred Marshall’, The Economic Journal, vol.34, no.135 (1924), 311-372
Robinson, Austin ‘John Maynard Keynes’, The Economic Journal, vol.56, no.222, (1941), 171
Robinson, Austin, ‘John Maynard Keynes: Economist, Author, Statesman’, The Economic Journal, vol.82, no.326 (1972), 531-546