E conomics is a useful tool for figuring out what makes society tick, says Richard England, and “how things work” is definitely a theme when he teaches the introductory course at UNH’s Whittemore School.

“I love to put things together, take them apart and understand how everything fits,” England says.

Studying economics with England is a little like watching a painter, suggests one of his students. He will sketch a few ideas in lecture, offer facts “in a very precise manner,” then ask a provocative question, recalls Momin Khan, a 1986 Whittemore School graduate now back to pursue a master’s degree. “After he shows us certain lines, he’ll add color,” says Khan, continuing the metaphor, “but we are still wondering what point he is trying to make.”


Finally, England fits the pieces together—“tons of information, some key questions, an overall theory—and suddenly there is a picture,” Khan says. “You are left with two or three very strong images, and the solid facts to back them up. He is like a painter or a puzzle maker. There’s a real skill in that; it takes a lot of thought and care, almost artistry. I think you have to love your work to do it so well.”

Even the cartoons on the bulletin board outside England’s office resonate—“You are here,” says an arrow pointing to the Milky Way galaxy. “Knowing how we got where we are is important,” the professor believes. Like many good teachers, he’ll try a variety of approaches to make a point—assigning market simulation games, current events, television. He’s got a reputation for arriving in class with an armload of newspaper clippings, too. “I get my higher marks from students by being enthusiastic about my subject,” he laughs. “I guess that comes across.”

England simply acknowledges that students approach economics with the prejudice that the material will be boring. “I’m aware that I need to make a special effort.”

His goal, especially for undergraduates, is to prepare them to be active citizens. “I believe in democracy with a lower case ‘d,’ and for it to work, people need to develop critical thinking skills,” he says. “Long after facts are forgotten, critical thinking allows us to make choices wisely.”

A city and country walker, perennial gardener, and lover of the outdoors, England—who is proud to call himself an ecological economist—advises both the Natural Resources and Economics graduate programs at UNH. As a doctoral candidate at Michigan, he spent a full year reading ecology and environmental research, so it seemed natural when England and the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests won a grant to study how tax policy might help to preserve open space and rural lands in the state.

“I care a lot about making good public policy at the national, state, and local levels,” he says. “Economics provides the tools to help us know what to do as a society with issues like health and the environment. But then we need to act in order to make a difference.”

A midwesterner, England developed an appreciation early for how “the System” works—his mother encouraged him as a boy to watch congressional hearings on television. Plus, an “outstanding, dynamic, and engaging” economics teacher at Ohio State showed him how to “explain things in the world.”

In Durham, his home for the past 30 years, England belongs to a men’s reading group, where a recent favorite was Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel. It combines economics, genetics, anthropology, geography, politics, and more to explain human civilization. “It’s right up my alley,” chuckles England, “understanding how things work, and how we got where we are today.”

—Janet Lathrop, UNH News Bureau

 

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Whittemore School of Business and Economics, Richard W. England

Richard W. England with students Agatha Zietala, Alan Bernier, and Momin Khan, McConnell Hall

Richard W. England, professor of economics and natural resources, Whittemore School of Business and Economics, with students Agatha Zietala, Alan Bernier, and Momin Khan, McConnell Hall, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH

 

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