Biography and History

Albert O. Hirschman (1915- ) was a leading scholar in the field of economic development whose work focused on Latin America but encompassed the globe. He was a professor at Yale, Columbia, Harvard, and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. His work made important contributions to economics, the history of ideas, and the social sciences, and also provided insight into discussions of the economic reasons for changes in Latin American governments from the 1960s to the 1980s.

Albert Otto Hirschman was born in Berlin, Germany on April 7, 1915 to Carl and Hedwig Hirschmann. He lived and studied in Berlin, including at the University of Berlin from 1932 to 1933, until he moved to France in 1933. He studied at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales and Institut de Statistique, Sorbonne in Paris from 1933 to 1935, where he earned diplomas. He then studied at the London School of Economics from 1935 to 1936 as an International Student Service Fellow. He attended the University of Trieste from 1936 to 1938, where he earned his doctorate in economics in 1938. Hirschman was an economist at the Institut de Recherches Economiques et Sociales and Institut International de Cooperation Intellectuelle in Paris from 1938 to 1939.

While completing his education, Hirschman became increasingly involved in the fight against fascism in Europe. He fought in the French Army against Nazi occupation in 1940 and in 1941 emigrated to the United States, where he would become a naturalized citizen, to avoid arrest. Hirschman married Sarah Chapiro on June 22, 1941 and they had two daughters, Catherine Jane and Elisabeth Nicole. In the United States, Hirschman was a Rockefeller fellow in international economics at the University of California, Berkeley from 1941 to 1943 before joining the United States Army. He served in the Army from 1943 to 1945, and then served as economist for the Federal Reserve Board from 1946 to 1952.

Hirschman next traveled to Colombia to serve as financial advisor to the National Planning Board of Colombia from 1952 to 1954, and then worked as a private economic advisor with George Kalmanoff in Bogotá, Colombia from 1954 to 1956. Hirschman returned to the United States in 1956, accepting a position at Yale as Irving Fisher Research Professor from 1956 to 1957 and continuing as a visiting research professor of economics until 1958. He was also a consultant for the Rockefeller Foundation from 1957 to 1958. He moved to Columbia University in 1958, where he was professor of international economic relations until 1964. During this time, he was also director of the Latin America Project of the Twentieth Century Fund from 1960 to 1963 and a member of the Board of Editors of the American Economic Review from 1961 to 1964.

Hirschman spent the next ten years of his academic career at Harvard University, where he was professor of political economy from 1964 to 1967 and the Lucius N. Littauer Professor of Political Economy from 1967 to 1974. He was also a Ford Foundation Faculty Research Fellow from 1964 to 1965 and a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavior Sciences in Stanford, California from 1968 to 1969. In addition, he was the study director of foreign policy studies at the Brookings Institute from 1964 to 1966 and chairman of the SSRC-ACLS Joint Committee on Latin American Studies from 1973 to 1976.

Hirschman's last career move was to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. He was a visiting member from 1972 to 1973, and in 1974 accepted a position as a professor in the School of Social Science at the Institute. Hirschman transferred to emeritus status in 1985, a position he still retained as of May 2007. While at the Institute, he was also active in other pursuits, serving as a consultant and as a member of several executive committees. Hirschman was also a fellow at Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin from 1990 to 1991 and visiting fellow there from 1991 to 1994 and in 2000. In honor of his achievements, the Institute for Advanced Study established the Albert O. Hirschman Chair in Economics on May 1, 2000.

During his career, Hirschman authored numerous books and articles, which have been translated into many languages. Among his important works are The Strategy of Economic Development (1958), Exit, Voice and Loyalty (1970), A Bias for Hope: Essays on Development and Latin America (1971), The Passions and the Interests (1977), and Shifting Involvements: Private Interest and Public Action (1982). The Strategy of Economic Development outlines the beginnings of Hirschman's economic development theories, which challenged the uniform doctrinal prescriptions of the time and advocated for considering each case individually, offering economic development strategies that worked with the local resources and structures.

Hirschman was the recipient of numerous awards and honors from institutions worldwide for his scholarly accomplishments. He received nineteen honorary degrees and was awarded the Order of San Carlos from the government of Colombia in 1995 and the Order of the Southern Cross from the Presidency of Brazil in 2000. For his contributions to political economy and social science, he was awarded the Frank E. Seidman award in 1980, the Talcott Parsons prize from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1983, and the Thomas Jefferson Medal from the American Philosophical Society and the Toynbee prize in 1998. In 2003, he won the Benjamin E. Lippincott Award from the American Political Science Association for The Passions and The Interests, an award given for a work by a political theorist that is still significant at least fifteen years after its publication. Hirschman was also a member of several learned societies, including the Academy of Sciences Berlin-Brandenburg, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Economic Association (fellow), the American Philosophical Society, the Berliner Wissenschaftlich Gesellschaft (Scientific Society of Berlin), the Council on Foreign Relations, the National Academy of Sciences, the British Academy (corresponding fellow), and the Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei (foreign member).

Source: From the finding aid for MC160

  • Albert O. Hirschman Papers. 1900-2004 (inclusive), 1950-2000 (bulk).

    Call Number: MC160

    Albert O. Hirschman (1915- ) was a leading scholar in the field of economic development whose work focused on Latin America but encompassed the globe. He was a professor at Yale, Columbia, Harvard, and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. Hirschman's papers document his scholarship on economic development and his academic career and include his correspondence written while he was at the Institute for Advanced Study, his writings, and his research notes and materials, especially related to his work in Latin America and for the World Bank.

  • Albert O. Hirschman Papers. 1900-2004 (inclusive), 1950-2000 (bulk).

    Call Number: MC160

    Albert O. Hirschman (1915- ) was a leading scholar in the field of economic development whose work focused on Latin America but encompassed the globe. He was a professor at Yale, Columbia, Harvard, and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. Hirschman's papers document his scholarship on economic development and his academic career and include his correspondence written while he was at the Institute for Advanced Study, his writings, and his research notes and materials, especially related to his work in Latin America and for the World Bank.