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Nicholson versus Ingram on the history of political economy and a charge of plagiarism


In 1885 John Kells Ingram published a lengthy article on the history of political economy in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and in 1888 he republished this same article, with only minor changes, as a book entitled The History of Political Economy. Ingram unashamedly interpreted the historical development of political economy from a Comtean variant of the historicist perspective, and, for this reason, these publications became extremely important for the methodological debate, known as the English Methodenstreit, then raging between the orthodox and historical economists. Although the historicist message dovetailed into Ingram’s historical narrative was clearly contentious and polemical, the reviews of both versions of this history from either side of the conceptual divide were overwhelmingly positive. Two exceptions were damning anonymous newspaper reviews in The Scotsman: one in 1885 in response to the Encyclopaedia Britannica article, and another in 1888 in response to the book. It is apparent from an entry made in the diary of John Neville Keynes that the first of these reviews was written by Joseph Shield Nicholson (JNK, July 28, 1885, Add 7834), and since the articles are strikingly similar in tone, substance, and style, and since Nicholson wrote other reviews for The Scotsman, it is safe to assume that the second article was also written by Nicholson. The substance of Nicholson’s critique can be reduced to two main accusations: first, that Ingram was neither qualified to write a history of political economy nor competent to comment on the methodological issues then under scrutiny, and second, that Ingram had brazenly plagiarized passages drawn from various German histories of political economy.



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