The Ostroms & Our History

A resource arrangement that works in practice can work in theory.

Ostrom’s Law

A “workshop” inspired by a real workshop

Vincent and Elinor Ostrom married in 1963 and started at IU two years later with Vincent as a full professor at the Department of Political Science and Elinor, as a visiting assistant professor. “I had the good luck to be offered a visiting assistant professor position,” recalls Elinor, adding, “since they needed someone to teach political science at 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, and I was willing to do that.”

In the following decade, the Monday Colloquium series started, bringing together students and faculty in business, economics, law, political science, and more, all with the goal of creating and expanding knowledge about political economy.

Meanwhile, the Ostroms built their home near Bloomington and undertook an interest in woodworking and carpentry. Under the apprenticeship of furniture maker Paul Goodman, the Ostroms developed an appreciation for apprenticing, particularly in a workshop setting that pushed their understanding and skills. This would be one of the reasons the “Center for Political Theory and Policy Analysis” would consistently be referred to by the Ostroms as “the workshop”.

Elinor and Vincent Ostrom partially furnished the Workshop with their designs, including this set of chairs. 
“One of the reasons we called this place a workshop instead of a center was because of working with Paul and understanding what artisanship was. You might be working on something like a cabinet and thinking about the design of it, and thinking this idea versus that idea, and then Paul could pick up a board and say, oh, you shouldn’t use this one because it will split. He could see things in wood that we couldn’t. So the whole idea of artisans and apprentices and the structure of a good workshop really made an impression on us.” —Elinor Ostrom

The term “workshop” represents the belief the skills for this type of research are best acquired and used in a setting where students, working as apprentices and journeymen, have the opportunity to collaborate with experienced scholars.

From a simple tradition of voluntarily organizing weekly colloquia with their colleagues across campus, the Ostroms crafted an academic environment where students, visiting scholars, and colleagues from diverse disciplines in academia and in the field across the world interacted daily, studying issues of institutional analysis and collective action.