Douglass North is a pivotal figure in the development of the 'new' economic history as well as the 'new' institutional economics. However, the relationship between these two aspects of his thinking remains undeveloped in previous critical assessments of North's work. The relationship is clarified here. The evidence presented indicates that three distinct phases can be distinguished in his writings between the 1950s and the 2000s. The paper relates these changing views to the shifting mainstream within economics and the effects that this shift has in turn had on economic history research. Economic history has adapted to economic research by abandoning some practices associated with the earlier cliometric literature. Furthermore, North is unique to the extent that his recent writings represent something of a convergence with 'old' institutionalism. © 2010 Taylor & Francis.