Hortaçsu, et al.: New Computational Techniques Help Pinpoint 11 "Lost Cities" Using Ancient Data

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Using ancient data from 4000-year old clay tablets, new mathematical and computation techniques allow researchers to pinpoint 11 "lost cities" of Bronze Age era Turkey, in a new paper from Gojko Barjamovic, Thomas Chaney, Kerem Cosar & Ali Hortaçsu. The researchers describe the tablets as containing “business letters, shipment documents, accounting records, seals and contracts;” historians and archaeologists traditionally analyze such texts for qualitative information a determine locations of a site, such as landscape features, or indications of distance or direction from other, known cities. Barjamovic, Hortacsu, Chaney, and Cosar used a novel approach, using modern math to analyze the quantitative data instead.

According to the article, the authors report in “a majority of cases, our quantitative estimates are remarkably close to qualitative proposals made by historians,” however “In some cases where historians disagree on the likely site of lost cities, our quantitative method supports the suggestions of some historians and rejects that of others.”The authors say their approach can supplement more traditional methods, helping fill knowledge gaps in the archaeological record. The Washington Post calls the paper "a fascinating illustration of how modern knowledge can breathe new life into numbers inscribed on clay tablets 4,000 years ago."

Larry A. Sjaastad Fund Will Support Graduate Fellowships

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A graduate fellowship fund in memory of Professor Larry A. Sjaastad has been created in the Kenneth C. Griffin Department of Economics at the University of Chicago through a generous gift.

Sjaastad, a professor emeritus of economics and a leading expert on trade in Latin America, died on May 2, 2012 at the age of 77. He made fundamental contributions to economics across a wide spectrum of topics including public finance, international economics, and exchange rate theory.

Among his many accomplishments, Sjaastad helped organize the Latin American Workshops at the University of Chicago. As a young scholar, he developed an interest in Latin America when he directed a training program started in 1962 for Argentinian students in economics, organized at the Universidad National de Cuyo as a joint program with professors from the University of Chicago. It was the first such program established through President John F. Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress, which was intended to improve relations with Latin America. He also was a visiting professor at universities in Chile, Colombia, Singapore, Western Australia and Brazil. The Larry A. Sjaastad Economics Graduate Fellowship Fund will provide endowed support to students in economics with an interest in Argentinian, Latin American, and South American economies.

Sjaastad was born on a farm near Tagus, N.D. and enrolled in the North Dakota Agricultural College to study electrical engineering. He received a scholarship to attend UChicago, where he developed a passion for analytical, applied economics. After receiving his undergraduate degree in 1957, he continued as a graduate student in economics and received a PhD from UChicago in 1961. His doctoral thesis, a path-breaking extension of human capital theory into the study of migration decisions, was developed into an influential article, “The Costs and Returns of Human Migration,” which remains widely cited today. The paper, published in the Journal of Political Economy, examined migration patterns in the United States in a comprehensive way. It sought to determine the social and personal costs of migration, in monetary and non-monetary terms, such as moving from to another state because of better living conditions. The thesis also became legendary for students in UChicago’s Department of Economics.

“Larry's thesis on migration was held up by (former UChicago professor) Gregg Lewis and other teachers as a model dissertation for my class. It was a standard that few of us met,” said Nobel Prize winner Robert E Lucas, Jr., the John Dewey Distinguished Service Professor in Economics at UChicago, who received a PhD from UChicago in 1964. After briefly teaching at the University of Minnesota, Sjaastad joined the UChicago faculty in 1962, where he remained until his retirement in 2004. During his 42-year teaching career, Sjaastad supervised 139 doctoral dissertations and was a vital source of guidance and support for countless students. Known for his ability to present complex economic theory in a clear, accessible manner, Sjaastad set an example for excellence in teaching, former students said. In 2008, he received the Norman Maclean Faculty Award, given by the University’s Alumni Association in recognition of his outstanding teaching. When Sjaastad retired, he was presented with a work titled, “The Larry Sjaastad Letters,” which included expressions of gratitude and well-wishes from former students, colleagues and friends.

If you are interested in supporting this fund, please contact Blake Davis, Managing Director of Development, at blake2@uchicago.edu or 773.702.7175. To learn more about Professor Sjaastad, the full obituary, from which this information is drawn, is available here.

List: Charitable Donations May Drop Under Proposed Tax Reform Bill

In a November 13 Chicago Tribune article, Prof. John A. List, Chair of the Kenneth C. Griffin Department of Economics at the University of Chicago shared his concern that proposed changes in the United States tax code could lead to significant reductions in charitable giving. According to recent research conducted by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University, changes in the standard deduction, coupled with a decrease in the marginal tax rate - a disincentive to itemize - would reduce charitable giving by an estimated $4.9 billion to $13.1 billion annually. “Incentives represent the backbone of what people decide to give and who to give to. These types of incentives...really do move real dollars around and affect real lives," List states. "People will still want to change the world, but when it’s costlier to change the world, then they want to change the world a little less.” Read the full article.

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