The lecture was delivered on April 26 during the 1996 ACLS Annual Meeting in Washington, DC.
From the lecture program:
Robert William Fogel was born in New York City in 1926, four years after his parents and brother migrated to the United States from the city of Odessa in Russia. His parents' reverence for learning encouraged him and his brother toward academic pursuits. Professor Fogel regards his education in the public schools of New York City as excellent preparation for a life in science. His professional training began at Cornell University (B.A., 1948) and continued at Columbia University where he obtained the M.A. (1960) and at Johns Hopkins University, where he obtained the Ph.D. in 1963. At Cornell Professor Fogel's scientific interests shifted from physics and chemistry to economics and history—a switch in focus precipitated by the widespread pessimism about the future of the economy during the second half of the 1940s.
Professor Fogel began his graduate training with the naive belief that by combining the study of history and economics he would quickly discover the fundamental forces that had determined technological and institutional changes over the ages and that such knowledge would point to solutions to the current problems of economic instability and inequity. As he focused on discrete issues he discovered that the answer to many questions depended on quantitative evidence. He set out to master the most advanced analytical and statistical methods that were then taught in the economics department. Later he discovered that the training program he worked out for himself was unorthodox for an economic historian.
Simon Kuznets, supervisor of Professor Fogel's doctoral dissertation, was the most influential figure in his graduate training. When Professor Fogel left Johns Hopkins he had worked out a two-pronged research strategy for at least the next decade. The first was to measure the impact of key scientific and technological innovations, key governmental policies, and key environmental and institutional changes on the course of economic growth. The second was to promote the wider use of the mathematical models and statistical methods of economics in studying the complex, long-term processes that were the focus of economic historians. Professor Fogel felt the two objectives were closely interrelated. The best argument for the new methodology was the demonstration that in the study of particular issues, such as the contribution of railroads to economic growth, these methods were superior to traditional approaches. Several factors made the realization of Professor Fogel's research program possible. One was the willingness of university administrators (Lionel W. McKenzie at the University of Rochester; Deans D. Gale Johnson and Robert McAdams at the University of Chicago; and Henry Rosovsky at Harvard) to provide him with a generous share of the limited research funds at their disposal. Except for a small grant from the Social Science Research Council while at Johns Hopkins, all of Professor Fogel's work on railroads was supported exclusively from university funds. Another key factor was the plunging cost of data processing made possible by rapid advances in computer hardware and software. These technological developments made it feasible to work with ever-larger data sets.
No single organization has contributed more to the study of long-term economic growth than the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). In 1977 Professor Fogel became program director of a new NBER program on the long-term Development of American Economy (DAE). The program revealed the need to know much more about microeconomic behavior. Research at that level had been inhibited by the absence of suitable data. The DAE turned its attention to the problem of constructing new data sets capable of illuminating the relationship between the current and the past behavior of families and firms.
Professor Fogel's ability to work on the problem of creating and studying the large life-cycle and intergenerational data sets reached a new level in 1981 when the Graduate School of Business at the University of Chicago invited him to become the Charles R. Walgreen Professor of American Institutions and offered to establish a Center for Population Economics (CPE) that would focus on the interaction of economic, demographic and biological processes over life-cycles and generations. The generous support of CPE by the University of Chicago has continued to the present. Professor Fogel has been awarded the Arthur C. Cole Prize (1968), the Schumpeter Prize (1971), the Bancroft Prize (1975), the Gustavus Myers Prize (1990) and the Nobel Prize in Economic Science (1993).
Professor Fogel credits Enid C. Morgan, his wife of forty-seven years, as being the individual who has done the most to help him pursue his career.