Guest Post: Correcting an Incorrect “Corrective”

Edward E. Baptist is the author of The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. He would like to thank Joshua Rothman, Jefferson Cowie, Louis Hyman, and David Silbey for advice on this piece of writing, and The Junto for letting me publish in their space.

edwardbaptist-thehalfHow was an immense increase in the “efficiency” of cotton production achieved in the nineteenth century? The question cuts to the heart of the debates over the history of U.S. slavery.

Last week, The Junto linked to sociologist John Clegg’s review in Critical Historical Studies, which considered several recent books on slavery and capitalism. This blog reported Clegg’s take on The Half Has Never Been Told as a “corrective.” Clegg attacks my argument that intense coercion drove a 400% increase in the efficiency of cotton-picking slave labor in the U.S. South between 1800 and 1860. His critiques directly build on the work of economists Alan Olmstead and Paul Rhode. In a series of essays, they asserted that efficiency actually increased because of improved seeds. In a recent issue of the Journal of Economic History, Olmstead appears somewhat displeased that I disagree with their assertions. Continue reading

Continuing the Debate on Slavery and Capitalism

Fig-6-Picking-cottonIt’s been two and a half years since the new history of capitalism marked its arrival with the full red carpet treatment in the New York Times. So it’s about time we saw some serious and constructive critiques of the project. Robin Blackburn’s lengthy review of Empire of Cotton goes some way to bringing that Bancroft-winner back down to earth, particularly by scrutinising the concept of “war capitalism.” But what I particularly want to share with Junto readers today is an article by the NYU sociologist John Clegg recently published in the Chicago-based journal, Critical Historical Studies. Continue reading

SHEAR 2015: Conference Recap


Ann Fabian’s SHEAR Presidential Address

The Society for Historians of the Early American Republic enjoyed three energizing days in Raleigh, North Carolina, last weekend. Lightbulbs went off—and, sometimes, sparks flew—in sessions centered on a vast range of questions about what Ann Fabian called the “complex and unmade world” of the early republic. The book exhibit was abuzz with talk of projects newly published and still in the works. And each evening, the sidewalks thronged with surprisingly large crowds of carousing local youths; we can only assume they were so lively because they knew that the early Americanists had brought the party to town. Continue reading

Q&A: Abigail Swingen, Competing Visions of Empire

9780300187540-1Abigail Swingen is an Assistant Professor of History at Texas Tech University (Lubbock, TX). She received her Ph.D. in History from the University of Chicago. She specializes in the Early Modern British Atlantic Political Economy. Competing Visions of Empire is her first book and was reviewed here yesterday. The following is part of our (relatively) new tradition of reviewing a book and then offering a Q & A with the author the following day. [NB: You can find my review from yesterday here.] Continue reading

Review: Abigail Swingen, Competing Visions of Empire

Abigail L. Swingen, Competing Visions of Empire: Labor, Slavery, and the Origins of the British Atlantic Empire (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015).

9780300187540-1There have been some fantastic new contributions of late that explore connections between slavery, economics, and empire. In his 2008 analysis of the American political economy, economic historian Gavin Wright concluded that the dependence on slave labor came not because of any institutional efficiency on the part of plantations, but rather, that no other form of coerced labor could have been made to meet the labor demands. Sven Beckart’s Bancroft Prize-winning book, Empire of Cotton, analyzes connections between cotton, and the slave labor behind it, and the rise of modern capitalism. Ed Baptist’s book, The Half Has Never Been Told, explores slavery’s role in the making of American capitalism.

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Recap: “So Sudden an Alteration” Conference (9-11 April 2015)

Two weeks ago, 175 historians descended upon the Massachusetts Historical Society (MHS) in Boston for a three-day conference that considered the political, social, economic, and global parameters of the American Revolution. The conference consisted of eight panels (with pre-circulated papers), two keynotes, and some special presentations on digital projects. The conference proceedings were live-tweeted under #RevReborn2, and fellow Juntoist Joseph Adelman provided some live coverage on the blog. The Junto has also had some post-conference commentaries, including “You Say You Want a Revolution” by Joseph Adelman and “The Suddenness of the Alteration: Some Afterthoughts on #RevReborn2” by Michael Hattem.

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Guest Post: Disaster, Death, and Distilleries

Today’s guest post comes from Jordan Smith, a PhD Candidate in Atlantic History at Georgetown University. His dissertation, “The Invention of Rum,” investigates the development and production of rum in the seventeenth and eighteenth-century Atlantic World.

Warning: This post contains graphic accounts of industrial accidents.

RumOn a recent research trip to Barbados, I stopped by the Mount Gay Visitors Center. There, between tastes of a variety of rums, tour guides regaled me with a heroic tale of Barbados’s place in the invention of rum. Afterwards, I was handed a brochure which proclaimed Mount Gay to be “the rum that invented rum.” The reasoning for this marketing strategy is simple enough—Mount Gay is one of many distilleries that makes a financial killing off of linking their product to a happy history of ingenuity and originality. Yet accounts of eighteenth-century distillery disasters suggest that this invention and innovation of rum was often undergirded by shocking violence.   Continue reading