John Murray

J. R. Hyde III Professor of Political Economy, Professor of Economics
(901) 843-3577


For 25 years I have been teaching principles of economics. Every semester I learn something new. Usually it’s because several of those principles appear in the news after a politician makes people relearn them the hard way. In addition to Principles (Econ 100), Econ 339: Economic History uses economic principles to make sense of historical trends and episodes. It’s a lot more than economics with old data. In Econ 323: Classical and Marxian Political Economy we read the beginnings of modern economics in the classical era writers: David Hume, Adam Smith, T.R. Malthus, David Ricardo, and Karl Marx. Both courses reveal that, as William Faulkner observed, the past is never dead; it’s not even past.

I usually run a section of senior seminar. In economics, students write a 25-30 page research paper from scratch. They find a topic, read the literature, estimate econometric models, and interpret them. Students find it a different experience from previous courses. 

I have taught American, European, and world economic history, econometrics, demography, mathematical economics, freshman calculus, introductory statistics, and high school algebra. And Sunday School.

I direct the Program in Political Economy. If you are interested in this fascinating and rigorous interdisciplinary major, please come in and let’s talk.


My current research interests involve European coal production after the canonical years of the Industrial Revolution—so from 1830 to 1914. By the beginning of this period some well-known coal production technologies were in place: steam driven water pumps and Davy safety lamps. The end of the period predates widespread electrification in mines and use of mechanized coal cutters. The great improvements in mine productivity in between then were due to small scale technologies—ventilation, explosives, and gas detection. Some of the greatest European scientists of the day studied questions of mine safety, not always reaching correct conclusions: Davy of course, and Faraday, Bunsen, and Le Chatêlier. My co-author, Javier Silvestre of the University of Zaragoza, and I are also interested in questions of price and productivity convergence and market integration in European coal. 

My research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Spencer Foundation, and the Earhart Foundation.

I currently sit on the editorial boards of the Journal of Economic History and the History of Education Quarterly. I formerly served on the editorial boards of Social Science History and Explorations in Economic History.


I was born and raised in an industrial suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio. Neither of my parents went to college, so if you are a first generation college student and find this brave new world hard to read, please come in and let’s talk about it. In past lives I worked at delivering newspapers, cutting weeds, raking leaves, shoveling snow, mowing lawns, painting houses (interior and exterior), caddying, helping mentally disabled children eat peanut butter, roofing garages, moving industrial flotsam from one storage area to another, mopping up spilled chemicals of unknown toxicity, operating a bookbinding machine, wiping backsides of the very old and very young, shaving very old men, discouraging psychiatric patients from killing themselves, changing sheets while the nursing home patient remained in bed, drawing blood (phlebotomy), carrying blood from operating rooms and returning with lab reports, cleaning toilets in a popcorn-maker factory, cleaning toilets in ritzy houses, waiting tables, scooping out sodas and sundaes, polishing silverware made by Paul Revere, tutoring math, teaching high school math, making telephone survey calls from a cubicle, and writing marketing strategies from a different cubicle. Each job was an education. To paraphrase Yogi Berra: You can observe a lot of economics by just working.

My family enjoys hiking with our dogs throughout the region, from the Old Forest to Village Creek State Park, Arkansas to Sipsey Wilderness, Alabama. My daughters love music and we have found that there is way more classical music happening in Memphis than we can keep up with.

Recent publications

The Charleston Orphan House: Children’s Lives in the First Public Orphanage in America. University of Chicago Press, 2013. This book won the George Rogers, Jr., Award of the South Carolina Historical Society, for the best book on South Carolina history published in 2013.

Children Bound to Labor: The Pauper Apprentice System in Early America. Co-edited with Ruth Wallis Herndon. Cornell University Press, 2009.

Origins of American Health Insurance: A History of Industrial Sickness Funds. Yale University Press, 2007.

(with Javier Silvestre) Small scale technologies in European coal production, 1850-1900. Economic History Review 68 (2015): 887–910

History of health insurance in developed countries. In Tony Culyer, editor, Encyclopedia of Health Economics. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2014, Volume 1, pp. 365-372.

(with Werner Troesken) African-American labor supply after Reconstruction: Added worker effects in urban families. Journal of Interdisciplinary History 44 (2013): 181-208.

Child labor and social class in the American South. In Peggy G. Hargis, Larry J. Griffin, volume editors, and James G. Thomas, Jr., general editor, New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, Volume 20: Social Class. University of North Carolina Press, 2012, pp. 332-333


B.A., Oberlin College
M.S., University of Cincinnati
M.A., Ph.D., The Ohio State University

Curriculum Vitae