In the 1940s and 1950s, as Soviet studies became a vibrant academic enterprise with significant links to the policy world, economic Sovietology occupied a special place. Those same years saw, also, the first major wave of decolonization and with it the rise of development economics. While many economists straddled both worlds, Harvard economic historian Alexander Gerschenkron occupied pride of place by virtue of his ideas, his reputation, and his students. Born in Odessa but with his economic education in Vienna, Gerschenkron brought to both enterprises a capacious and wide-ranging intellect and a determination to relate the economic history of his motherland to the contemporary problems of developing nations. His most famous essay, “Economic Backwardness in Historical Perspective,” was an important attempt to draw lessons from the Russian economic experience and apply them to the industrializing world. He and his students had great intellectual success in plotting the connections between the second world's past and the third world's future, but with that success, ironically, came isolation from their colleagues both in economics departments and Soviet studies centers.

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