Richard T. Ely, 1854-1943.

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Photo of R.T.Ely from AER

Considered by some as a German Historicist in American clothing, Richard T. Ely was one of the prominent proponents of the historical method in America and thus a leading forerunner of the American Institutionalist School. He was the teacher and mentor of both John R. Commons and Wesley C. Mitchell.

Ely was educated at Columbia and spent three years at Heidelberg, obtaining his doctorate in 1879. Upon his return to America, he joined the faculty of the Johns Hopkins University, then the first American university to give "serious" graduate degrees. Ely's efforts to transplant German Historicism into American academia led to a bitter methodological battle in the 1880s with his conservative colleague, Simon Newcomb -- who, it is said, eventually engineered Ely's dismissal from Hopkins in 1892.

In an attempt to emulate Schmoller's Verein f・ Sozialpolitik on American soil, Richard Ely was, with Seligman and Adams, the organizer and founder of the American Economic Association (AEA) in 1885. The AEA became quickly embroiled in the raging methodological controversy between old school conservatives and new school historicists. The AEA eventually abandoned Ely's vision as a normative body for social progress to become a more staid professional organization. The AEA still attaches Ely's name to its yearly distinguished lecture.

In 1892, Ely migrated to the "progressive" University of Wisconsin with his pupil John R. Commons. It was under Ely that the empirical and labor bent long since associated with the University of Wisconsin was initiated. It quickly became the primary breeding ground for the new generation which was to become the American Institutionalist school.

Ely's position on labor movements and Christian socialism eventually got him in trouble again. The University of Wisconsin's controversial " trial" of Ely in 1894 led to a rallying of American scholars in defense of academic freedom in the U.S.. Ely's work on labor movements abated slowly as Ely grew increasingly conservative and concentrated on land economics. However,

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