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Tracy K. Dennison

Professor of Social Science History
Tracy Dennison headshot
Contact information for Tracy K. Dennison
Contact Method Value
Mail Code: MC 101-40
Office: 309 Dabney Hall
Phone: 626-395-1742
Administrative Assistant:
B.A., Bucknell University, 1992; M.Phil., University of Oxford, 1999; Ph.D., University of Cambridge, 2004. Assistant Professor, Caltech, 2006-09; Associate Professor, 2009-11; Professor, 2011-.

Research Interests

Pre-revolutionary Russia and Eastern Europe; Demographic History; Institutions and Economic Growth; History of Ideas about Peasant Societies


Economic History; Social Science History


Tracy Dennison is interested in how society worked in the past and how societal rules affected the decisions of ordinary people. She investigates how premodern institutions such as states, communities, and corporative entities influenced economic, social, and demographic behavior. Her research has centered on the role of households, communities, and landlords in the Russian rural economy under serfdom. In particular, Dennison has studied the role of landlords' policies, especially the quasi-formal legal systems established by some wealthy landlords that made it possible for their serfs to conduct property and credit transactions despite their ambiguous legal status. This subject was explored in her 2011 book, The Institutional Framework of Russian Serfdom (Cambridge University Press).

Among Dennison's current projects is an investigation (with Sheilagh Ogilvie at the University of Cambridge) of the relationship between institutions and marriage patterns in premodern Europe. She is also working on a new book about the political economy of imperial Russia, examining serfdom and emancipation in the context of state capacity and fiscal reform. Dennison eventually intends to expand her analysis of institutions to include Russian rural society in the post-emancipation period, exploring the nature and extent of institutional change in the Russian countryside after the 1861 Emancipation Act, as well as the terms of the act itself and the motivations behind it.

Before joining Caltech in 2006, Dennison was a postdoctoral research fellow and a temporary lecturer in Russian history at University of Cambridge, where she continues to act as an associate research fellow at the Centre for History and Economics and a research associate at the Centre for Quantitative Economic History. Her awards include the W. Bruce Lincoln Book Prize for best first monograph (2012), the Henry A. Wallace Award for best book on non-U.S. agricultural history (2012), and the Economic History Society's First Monograph Prize in Economic and/or Social History (2012). She also received a National Science Foundation Award for the Imperial Russian Incomes Project (2010–2011) as part of the Global Price and Income History Group.