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UC Davis Awards Prize for Teaching and Scholarship

By Julia Ann Easley on March 16, 1999 in

When students at the University of California, Davis, speak, Professor Peter Lindert takes notes.

Even after 32 years of teaching, this internationally renowned economic historian diligently studies student course evaluations with pen in hand to learn how he can further refine his classroom skills.

Today, Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Bob Grey announced to 140 students in one of Lindert's classes that their professor is the recipient of the 1999 UC Davis Prize for Undergraduate Teaching and Scholarly Achievement. Lindert will be honored at a gala dinner May 13.

The prize carries a $30,000 cash award, believed to be the largest individual, one-time award of its kind in the nation. The winner is selected on the recommendations of faculty members, students and research peers.

"Professor Lindert was chosen as this year's recipient because of his influential contributions to economic history and international economics, which he brings back to the classroom with energy and enthusiasm," said Julita Fong of the UC Davis Foundation, the premier fund-raising board for the campus that which provides the cash award.

Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef added, "Professor Lindert has a special quality that we have come to expect of Davis prize winners -- he brings his internationally recognized scholarship into his undergraduate classrooms in an understandable and inspiring fashion."

Lindert also was the recipient of the first Thomas Mayer Award for Distinguished Teaching in Economics in 1994 and of the Distinguished Teaching Award from the campus division of the Academic Senate in 1995.

Described as an "academic decathlete" by his nominators for this year's prize, Lindert has written or edited eight books and numerous journal articles that have earned him international recognition; he has taught an estimated 5,000 students -- inspiring many to major in economics or to pursue research projects; and he has supervised 30 doctoral dissertations on wide-ranging topics. He also has directed the activities of the campus's Agricultural History Center since 1987.

"You're teaching good students, and you get to write on whatever you want," Lindert said. "This is just fun. The real energy comes from how much fun it is."

Economics, especially economic history, wasn't Lindert's first interest during his undergraduate days at Princeton University.

He intended to be a physicist but came to the conclusion that economics would present an enjoyable blend of science and public debate. "It's got true science in the facts, but it's important enough that everybody tries to persuade you about how society should be organized."

Lindert graduated with a bachelor's degree in international affairs from Princeton in 1962, and he earned a doctorate in economics from Cornell University in 1967.

"Ragged" is how he describes some of his lectures during his first year of teaching at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. With no teacher training, he struggled with five, 15-week courses.

"The lecture preparations were new each time. I was up until about 4 in the morning. It was a hard investment."

Even so, Lindert quickly earned a reputation for quality teaching in his 10 years at Wisconsin and later at Davis, first as a visiting associate professor in 1976-77 and then as a tenured professor.

"Peter is determined to make the extra effort that translates into marvelous outcomes," said Steven Sheffrin, dean of the Division of Social Sciences.

During his lectures, Lindert uses examples from the day's newspapers to illustrate economic theories, and he provides notes for each lecture. He schedules some of his office hours in a campus cafeteria to foster more contact with students in introductory classes of up to 400. And he has rewarded winners of his classroom contests in economic forecasting with trips to the foreign-exchange traders desk at the Bank of America in San Francisco.

Even after three decades of teaching, the anonymous comments on his course evaluations attest to his infectious enthusiasm for his subject and his ability to keep his lectures fresh and interesting.

"Professor Lindert is an exceptional teacher who has such a passion for economics that, as a student, you also want to learn more," wrote one student.

"He's awesome," wrote another.

"Most importantly," wrote a third, "Professor Lindert actually encourages an interest in economics by encouraging students to think about current trends and how theory applies to the world around us."

Lindert also helps students gain experience in advanced research and writing through the honors-thesis program he revived and now teaches for the economics department.

"He is a rare, classic professor -- interested in many areas of research, engaged with his students, supportive, involved and encouraging," said Katherine Allen, who graduated from Davis in 1997 and now directs research at the Institute for Women's Policy Research in Washington, D.C. "Working on my honors thesis was inspiring and enjoyable because of Lindert's open approach and his ability to allow students to freely explore their interests."

With regard to his own research, Lindert said he has followed an "instinct for roving empiricism" from musty, 17th-century wills in British archives to thousands of unpublished reports on soil conditions in foreign countries. He is the author, co-author or co-editor of six research books, two textbooks and numerous journal articles.

He is best known for his scholarship on the inequality in income, wealth and living standards in Britain and the United States since the 18th century, much of it co-authored with Jeffrey Williamson of Harvard University. Their work, including the book "American Inequality: A Macroeconomic History," introduced improved measures of the quality-of-life changes associated with industrialization.

One of the two textbooks Lindert has written, "International Economics," is ranked second in sales of international economics texts in the United States. As author or co-author of its five editions since 1978, he has emphasized the application of economics to contemporary issues. Those editions have sold more than 110,000 copies in English, and the textbook has been printed in eight other languages.

He also has written a book explaining the economics behind fertility patterns in the United States and co-edited another on the international debt crisis. Soon to be published is another book on soil degradation in China and Indonesia.

Based on the frequency with which his work is cited by other scholars, Lindert has had an entry in the last two editions of "Who's Who in Economics," and he recently served a term as the vice-president of the Economic History Association.

Lindert has earned distinction for his scholarship and accolades for his teaching, but he finds his greatest reward in the success of his students. "It's knowing they have a wonderful job or they're studying at a great graduate school," he said. "It's the final product that's the main thrill."

Media contact(s)

Julia Ann Easley, General news (emphasis: business, K-12 outreach, education, law, government and student affairs), 530-752-8248, mobile 530-219-4545,