Economics professor Werner Troesken had lasting impact

Werner Troesken

Werner Troesken, Department of Economics faculty member in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, died Sept. 14, 2018.

“I believe Werner will be remembered not just for his distinguished scholarship but also for how incredible he was as a mentor for both junior faculty and his graduate students,” said Allison Shertzer, a colleague in the department.

Troesken earned three degrees in economics: a bachelors from Marquette University (1986) and a masters (1988) and doctorate (1992) from Washington University, St. Louis.

He began his academic career as a John M. Olin Faculty Fellow at the University of Arizona (1995-96) before joining Pitt as an assistant professor of history (1992-98), moving to associate professor (1998-2003) and finally professor (2004-2007). He spent a year at George Mason University before returning to Pitt as a professor of economics in 2008.

During his career, he also was a faculty research associate at the nonprofit National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Mass.; the Julian Simon Fellow at the Property and Environment Research Center in Bozeman, Mont.; and a National Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. In 2003-2004, he was co-director of the Center for Population Economics at the University of Chicago, where he was a visiting professor.

His research focused on the economic history of the U.S., especially relating to race, environmental history, disease and political economy. His 2004 book “Water, Race, and Disease” demonstrated how improvements in the public water supply equalized black and white life expectancy in the Jim Crow era. It won the Alice Jones Prize from the Economic History Association.

Troesken’s other books include “The Pox of Liberty: How the Constitution Left Americans Rich, Free, and Prone to Infection” (2015) and “The Great Lead Water Pipe Disaster” (2006).

Among his frequent co-authors for research in many journals was Randy Walsh, another departmental colleague. They collaborated on studies concerning the historical effect of lynching on voter turnout by African-Americans, and how violence can undercut democracy development more generally. Walsh said he and Troesken had just finished revising a paper about the impact of adoption and segregation ordinances circa 1917.

“He was a fantastic teacher at both an undergraduate and graduate level,” Walsh says, noting that many of Troesken’s students were now influential in academic programs across the country. “He was hugely supportive of other people’s work.”

Encountering Troesken’s work when she was in graduate school, adds Shertzer, “made a lasting impression on me and got me interested in working on segregation and public goods. Much of my success can be traced back to Werner's guidance, and I'm so grateful for all of his support since I came to Pitt.”

Troesken is survived by his son, Colin; father, Werner; siblings Dieter, Richert and Becky; partner Bridget Ridge; former spouse Patricia Beeson, former Pitt provost; and several nephews and nieces.

Marty Levine is a writer for the University Times.