Alison Scharmota and Santhi Hejeebu

The pairing of Santhi Hejeebu and Alison Scharmota  brought the tools of applied economics to bear on an important research question, and also illustrated the possibilities for interdisciplinary learning.

English major Alison Scharmota ’08 may seem an unlikely research partner for a systematic investigation into the labor markets of the eighteenth century East India Company, but economics and business professor Santhi Hejeebu found her to be a perfect match.

Hejeebu approaches her research using the tools of applied economics, but says that her work requires one to be a historian, first of all. She recruited Scharmota based on her

love for eighteenth century literature and her ability to read periodicals from the time.

“Unless you have the imagination to put yourself in that time and place, it’s a real uphill battle,” says Hejeebu. “The prose is turgid, thick, roundabout—not 21st-century business talk.”

Hejeebu was curious about anecdotal accounts claiming prominent positions in powerful 18th-century English companies and even Parliament were bought and sold rather than awarded on merit. She relied on Scharmota to scan a decade’s worth of the Public Advertiser, a four-page London-based daily, distilling mountains of text into useful quantitative data.

Scharmota found few references to the East India Company but discovered much buying and selling of jobs in West Indian plantations, in Parliament, and in smaller firms. These surprising findings will move the research forward.

“If ever I endeavor to write a dissertation, this will be very good practice,” she says. “I’ve gained a lot of confidence in my ability to do research through all this reading and even just where to look for information.”