Winter Reads

Just in time for your holiday shopping list, here’s our preview of new titles—share your finds in the comments! Continue reading

Economic Growth and the Historicity of Capitalism

NewYork1One of the central characteristics of the new history of capitalism has been its tendency to defer the question of just what “capitalism” is. The project’s enquiry starts with the question, not with a predetermined answer. But in order to know where to look, historians have to start with some idea about what makes a place and a time capitalist. As Tim Shenk points out in a recent article in The New Republic, the clue around which they converge is economic growth. Continue reading

Commodifying Labour, Commodifying People

cotton millThis post is part of an ongoing exploration of the edges of capitalism that I’ve been conducting in the pages of the Junto, most recently here. One element of that exploration, and something that’s been highly visible in the discussion lately—especially with things like the furore over The Economist‘s review of Ed Baptist’s book, The Half Has Never Been Told (we posted our own review)—is the relationship between slavery and capitalism. Today I want to focus on just one element of that relationship: the distinction between commodifying labour and commodifying people. Continue reading

The Week in Early American History

TWEAHThe past week has brought a number of fascinating developments in the world of academe and early America. But I think by far the most exciting has been the arrival in mailboxes around the country of the Fall 2014 issue of Early American Studies—a special edition dedicated to “Critical Approaches to Sex and Gender in Early America.” The articles are rich, creative, and surprising; I haven’t been able to put the issue down. If you’ve not gotten around to reading it yet, head on over to Project Muse and enjoy. In case you have already savored the new EAS issue, though, here’s your weekly roundup of noteworthy online happenings to bide you through a crisp fall Sunday. Continue reading

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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