Is the History of Capitalism the History of Everything?

wallstreeteastfromnassaustreetSeth Rockman begins and ends his recent essay on the “new history of capitalism” by describing capitalism as an economic system; but one of the features of the movement he describes is that it rightly treats capitalism as much more than that. As Rockman admits, “it is difficult to say what exactly it excludes.”[1] What’s most provocative and powerful about the new history of capitalism is precisely the fact that it recognizes and tries to historicize the pervasiveness of capitalism as a system that touches every aspect of our lives—everyone’s lives. Capitalism isn’t just in the workplace and the marketplace; as Jeffrey Sklansky has suggested, it’s in our very ways of being, seeing, and believing. But if the history of capitalism is an empire with no borders, just what kind of claims can it be making?[2] Continue reading

Another Kind of Blood: Edward Baptist on America’s Slaver Capitalism

edwardbaptist-thehalfREVIEW: The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. By Edward E. Baptist. New York: Basic Books, 2014.

The Half Has Never Been Told attempts a difficult feat: to analyze slavery’s place in the history of American capitalism, but also describe it as a lived experience. This is a story about commodities, bonds, and blood.

To join the abstract and the concrete, Edward Baptist relies on extended metaphors. His narrative traces the form of a human body: the ten chapters move from “Feet, 1783-1810” through “Tongues, 1819-1824” to “Arms, 1850-1861.” Overall, the narrative book follows an image, adapted from a Ralph Ellison essay, of “slavery’s giant body,” stretched across the territory of the United States, serving as the stage on which the drama of American history is acted.[1]

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The Week in Early American History

TWEAHSavor summer’s finale weekend with an extra side of early American history news. Continue reading

Trials and Tribulations of Writing while Sleeping

iphone notes screencapA few weeks ago, I dropped my iPhone in water. If you were wondering, those things do not float. As I pulled the phone out and dried it as best I could, all I could think about was my dissertation. I was in the throes of finishing a chapter, and I had a lot of really good ideas on that phone. In this post, I want to explain why my phone has become so important to my scholarly life. Continue reading

Book Review: Maura D’Amore, Suburban Plots: Men at Home in Nineteenth-Century American Print Culture

D’Amore, Maura. Suburban Plots: Men at Home in Nineteenth-Century American Print Culture. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2014.

Suburban Plots CoverThe world was a strange and startling place for Rip Van Winkle when he awoke from a twenty-year nap in New York’s Catskill Mountains. He had ventured to the woods to find a moment’s peace from “the labour of the farm and the clamour of his wife.”[1] Now well rested, bountifully bearded, and slightly disoriented, Van Winkle returned to his village anxious to understand the changes that left him “alone in the world,” but pleased that he was now part of a “more fraternal, organic domestic order.”[2] In the time since his fateful game of ninepins mixed with moonshine, Van Winkle, along with his male village compatriots, was now free to exercise his own masculine alternatives to traditionally female forms of domesticity. Maura D’Amore opens her book Suburban Plots: Men at Home in Nineteenth-Century American Print Culture with this unconventional reading of Washington Irving’s well-known tale. Seeking to understand the emergence of what she terms “male domesticity” in the nineteenth century—defined (somewhat inconsistently) as an ideology of “self-nurture in suburban environments [that provided] an antidote to the malaise of urban life and the strictures of feminine self-sacrifice”—D’Amore presents Rip Van Winkle as a prototype of various middle- and upper-class men who attempted to implement domesticity “on [their] own terms” in the midst of a quickly industrializing and alien world.[3] Continue reading

Guest Post: Lowell & the Executive

Today’s guest post is from Lindsay Schakenbach, a Ph.D. candidate in history at Brown University. Her dissertation,  “Manufacturing Advantage: War, the State, and the Origins of American Industry 1790-1840,” explores the development of the arms and textile industries in the context of national security, diplomacy, and territorial expansion.

lowellLook through any opinion section of The Wall Street Journal and you’ll almost certainly find condemnations of government intervention in business or a lambasting of the inefficiencies of bureaucratic meddling. Too much government, these commentators say, is bad for the economy. A reexamination of America’s origins as an industrial superpower, however, suggests a different mantra. Take the founding of Lowell, Massachusetts, for example. Even if we debate the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution–Pawtucket, Rhode Island?, Patterson, New Jersey?–the fact remains that Lowell was the site of the first large-scale integrated factory system in the United States and stands as a symbol of the birth of industrial capitalism. And its rise to prominence depended on federal meddling. Continue reading

Up to Code

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Today, The Junto chats with David Riordan, Product Manager of NYPL Labs, about Building Inspector, a crowdsourced digital project that invites citizen cartographers to “help unlock New York City’s past by identifying buildings and other details on beautiful old maps.” Read on about the Vectorizor, how you can contribute to The New York City Space/Time Directory, and how NYPL is making the “Google Maps of the past.”
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