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Ursinus student-faculty collaboration wins best paper award

Essays in Economic & Business History gave its 2017 best paper award to a paper stemming from Summer Fellows and honors research.

An Ursinus student-faculty research collaboration has resulted not only in a publication in a peer-reviewed journal but also an award for the best article of the year in that journal.

Ursinus alumnus Scott Clayman (Class of 2015), with Professor of Business and Economics Andrew Economopoulos and Assistant Professor of Business and Economics Scott Deacle, received the 2017 James Soltow Award for the best paper in Essays in Economic & Business History for their article “Caught in the Headlights: Revising the Road Kill Hypothesis of Antebellum Illinois Bank Failures.” The award was announced at the Economic and Business History Society banquet in Oklahoma City on May 26. 

The paper examines the actions taken by Illinois bank managers in response to important events related to the presidential election of 1860. The election ended with a victory for Abraham Lincoln and was followed by the Southern secession. Previous research had established that the widespread bank failures in Illinois that occurred in 1861 stemmed from their heavy investments in bonds issued by states that joined the Confederacy. The work by the Ursinus team provides evidence that the Illinois bank managers were limited in their ability to unload Southern bonds before the Civil War, and that the risk they assumed to hold those bonds would have been compensated by high returns had the bonds not defaulted. The evidence suggests that bankers in the lightly regulated “free banking” system of the time may have acted less recklessly than previously thought.

The paper relied on archival material collected by Economopoulos in the 1980s and examined by Clayman as a Summer Fellows project in 2014. Clayman continued his research as an honors project under Economopoulos’s mentorship his senior year at Ursinus (2014-15). Deacle joined Economopoulos and Clayman in the summer of 2015 to help complete the project. Clayman, who majored in business and economics and minored in history, now works as an accountant at a firm that provides services to private equity funds.