Energy Transitions in the History of Economic Thought (19th-20th c.)

ERC Starting Grant ETRANHET (2022-27)

‘Energy Transitions in the History of Economic Thought (19th-20th c.)’


Sept. 2022 – Aug. 2027


The ETRANHET project, funded by the European Research Council within the ERC Starting Grant framework (2022-27), is based on a threefold observation: (1) the urgency of climate change is confronted with persistent difficulties in coordinating international public action, (2) the production of energy is responsible for three quarters of greenhouse gas emissions, and (3) economists, and the economic discipline, seem to play a critical role in public policy (including energy policy). To understand the current energy situation, and find ways out of the climate crisis, ETRANHET’s purpose is to dig into the history of energy economics and analyse the role of economists, and of the economic discipline, in shaping the past and present representations of energy (and energy policies), all around the world.

ETRANHET therefore consists in writing the first ever history of energy transitions in economic thought, at a global scale (five market-economy contexts: Continental Western Europe, the British Isles, North America, Latin America, Japan + secondary areas in Central Asia, Oceania and Africa), to analyse past economists’ views of energy, their role in public policy, and the lessons to be learned. The notion of ‘transition’ may raise questions, as historians have shown that energy sources have been accumulating until now, without true substitution effects. It seems, however, that talking about ‘addition’ rather than ‘transition’ does not call into question the existence of important technical, economic, social, cultural and political changes brought about by the evolution of energy regimes, requiring attention through the lens of past economic proposals.

ETRANHET is a multidisciplinary project mobilising historiographical and science studies methods to study past economists and economic thinking. The preferred approach will be an internal analysis of economic concepts, theories, models and tools, to contribute both to the history of economic thought and to contemporary economic analysis. In addition, for specific work packages, expertise in economic and energy history, cultural studies, comparative methods and STS will also be called upon.

ETRANHET will be supported by archival research (essentially for drafts, notes and correspondence), with the creation of electronic repositories, making new valuable material available to historians. Digital humanities will be key, including lexicographic analysis and the development of tools for the analysis of handwritten materials. 

By taking a fresh look at today’s challenges in relation to the low-carbon transition, ETRANHET will contribute to show that the history of economic thought, and more broadly the history of ideas, have a role to play in contemporary economic research and sustainability debates.

Work packages

ETRANHET is a 60-month research project, with three successive work packages (WPs). After a launch and consolidation stage (WP1, 6 months), monographic research will be conducted at stage 2 (WP2, 36 months), before comparative analysis (WP3, 18 months).

WP1 will consist in consolidating the precise research questions to be dealt with throughout the project, in particular if adjustments are needed for certain regions of study, and on finalising the identification of entry-points into each linguistic corpus. Methods: literature review, expert consultation.

WP2 will consist in examining, separately, each of the five delimited research areas. Thanks to the entry-points identified in WP1, team members will dig into the primary materials from past economists to provide answers to each of ETRANHET’s research questions (e.g. How has the energy-development nexus been historically conceived in Japan? Have Latin American economists played a role in the energy choices and trajectories of their countries, and if so, how?). Methods: archival research, qualitative analysis, digital processing of materials.

WP3 will consist in confronting results from WP2 between regions to conduct both intra- and inter-regional comparison. The purpose will be to identify the similarities and differences in the past economic concepts, theories and models devoted to energy issues and transitions all over the world (e.g. in the economists’ reactions to the discovery of oil fields in the US in the late 1920s, in Venezuela in the 1910s-1920s, and in the North Sea in the late 1960s). From these similarities and differences, the objective will be to produce global narratives. Methods: small-N qualitative comparison, synchronic approach.


ETRANHET Kick-Off Webinar (done)
« Energy, environment and economic expertise in historical perspective »
> with a keynote talk by Prof. Christopher F. Jones (ASU) + presentation of the ETRANHET project
9 March 2023, 16:00-17:45 (CET) – on Zoom

ESHET 2023 Conference (done)
Presentation of preliminary results from ETRANHET on Spain and the Netherlands
1-3 June 2023, HEC Liège

ETRANHET Sept.-Oct. 2023 Work Programme (done)
As part of Yannick Mangold’s visit at CIRED, as an invited PhD student from the University of Hamburg: 6 working sessions on the history of natural resource economics and transversal historiographical issues in the history of economic thought

ETRANHET Spring Working Session
As part of a delocalised one-day event at CY Paris Université, organized by M. P. Vianna Franco, reading session on ‘fossil developmentalism’ and ‘fossil mentalities’ (based on Chatterjee, 2020 and Schmelzer & Büttner, 2024)
5 April 2024, CY Paris Université

ETRANHET Workshop: « Energy Transitions and Economic Thinking in German-speaking Territories, 1800-2000 »
In-person workshop to be held at CIRED (Paris), November 7-8, 2024
> Call for papers (deadline for the submission of abstract: April 30, 2024 May 10, 2024 (closed))

Associate and former members

The ETRANHET team members work with local experts and advisors from different parts of the world to enrich the analysis of corpuses. This ETRANHET international network is now composed of 20+ members located in France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy, the United States, Brazil, and Japan. Working groups by country meet online every two months or so.

Among these experts and advisors, some play an active role in the conduction of the project: they are the associate members of ETRANHET (see below). Are also mentioned, with an asterisk, former team members who contributed to the project during their stay, as post-docs, PhD students, Master’s students, or visiting scholars. This list is constantly evolving:

Bruna Capinã Botelho Costa*
Marion Gaspard, PhD (University of Lyon, FR)
Roberto P. Ferreira da Cunha, PhD (EnClim, Rio de Janeiro, BR)
Yannick Mangold* (University of Hamburg, DE)
Lucas Marquet-Ellis* (ENS Lyon, FR)
Marco P. Vianna Franco, PhD (CY University, Paris, FR)

Job opportunities

ETRANHET’s ambition is to bring out a new generation of researchers from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds who will become experts in the history of economic thought, in particular in the history of energy economics. Several job offers (PhD students, post-docs, engineers, interns) will be published all along the project on this page. Please consult it regularly.

Latest news about ETRANHET, including job offers, will also be displayed on social media, with the #ETRANHET hashtag. Stay tuned!


  • Dekker H.-J., Missemer A. (2024). ‘Resource Booms and the Energy Transition: What Can We Learn from Dutch Economists’ Response to the Discovery of Natural Gas Reserves (1959-1977)?‘, Energy Economics, 134, 107636.
    > (open access)
  • Giraudet L.-G., Missemer A. (2023). ‘The History of Energy Efficiency in Economics: Breakpoints and Regularities‘, Energy Research & Social Science, 97, 102973.
    > (open access)
  • More to come…
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