It took me a few days to realise my mistake. Around the third week of the semester, in this my first year teaching the “Foundations of American History” survey course here at Birmingham, I slipped up in a way I’d never have imagined. I was lecturing about Bacon’s Rebellion, and about Stephen Saunders Webb’s provocative, half-mad 1676: The End of American Independence. I found it odd that my students didn’t seem to see what was so funny, or at least glib, about Webb’s title. Those blank looks spooked me. So I said, “well, you know guys, because, 1776, right? That’s… when the Americans declared independence? Remember?” Continue reading
Closing our week-long forum on Slavery’s Capitalism, today’s post is courtesy of Kevin Waite, a Lecturer in Modern American History at Durham University in the United Kingdom. He was recently awarded his PhD at the University of Pennsylvania with a thesis entitled “The Slave South in the Far West: California, the Pacific and Proslavery Visions of Empire.”
No one could possibly read the fourteen essays that comprise Slavery’s Capitalism and conclude that human bondage was not absolutely central to American, and indeed global, economic development during the nineteenth century.  But it’s one of the corollary aims of the book—to move beyond the regionalism that has characterized much of the scholarship on slavery—that seems to me a more provocative, more novel, and perhaps more fraught intervention.
The long tentacles of slavery stretched across the globe and reached into a staggering array of institutions – educational, legal, financial, and political.This becomes especially clear by the final section of the book, “National Institutions and Natural Boundaries.” Compelling essays by Craig Steven Wilder, Andrew Shankman, Alfred L. Brophy and John Majewski provide a fitting capstone to a geographically and conceptually wide-ranging book. This is a history of slavery that catapults us far beyond the slave South. Continue reading
Continuing our forum on Slavery’s Capitalism, today we are pleased to feature a contribution from Christy Clark-Pujara, Assistant Professor of History in the Afro-American Studies Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the author of Dark Work: The Business of Slavery in Rhode Island (NYU Press, August 2016).
Slavery’s Capitalism is a timely collection of essays which details the necessity of placing slavery at the center of the economic history of the United States of America. The editors convincingly contend that the nation’s economic rise is inextricably linked to the institution of slavery. Moreover, they demonstrate the necessity of understanding the rise of capitalism in the U.S. as global—the institution of slavery was essential to the rise of capitalism throughout the Western world. Part III, “Networks of Interest and the North,” examines northerners’ investments in the business of slavery—the buying and selling of goods and people that sustained plantations throughout the Americas and the financial systems that were established to facilitate those trades. Continue reading
This contribution to the forum comes from Justin Leroy, an Assistant Professor in the Department of History at UC-Davis. Prior to joining UC Davis in 2016, he was a postdoctoral fellow in global American studies at Harvard University. He is at work on his first book, Freedom’s Limit: Racial Capitalism and the Afterlives of Slavery.
Slavery’s Capitalism offers a tremendous amount of evidence to support what scholars of slavery have long known—that slavery underwrote nearly every aspect of American economic development for over two centuries. These essays provide unprecedented detail about the precise workings of slavery’s role in the rise of American capitalism and will inspire many future research projects. Beckert and Rockman’s introduction is an ambitious piece of historiography, drawing together a diverse array of subfields and intellectual debates. Work such as Cedric Robinson’s Black Marxism and Ian Baucom’s Specters of the Atlantic, while key texts for interdisciplinary scholars working on questions of racial capitalism, are not often acknowledged by historians of the “new history of capitalism.” The introduction’s scope makes it an excellent primer for specialists and non-specialists alike. It is the most comprehensive of the recent review essays on slavery and capitalism, yet the breadth of this introduction is not matched by the essays within. Continue reading
Slavery’s Capitalism has been a long time coming. The conference from which this book arose was held at Harvard and Brown Universities in spring 2011—years before the New York Times lionised a “new history of capitalism,” co-editor Sven Beckert won the Bancroft Prize for his Empire of Cotton, or fellow co-editor Seth Rockman surveyed the field in the Journal of the Early Republic. The conversations and ideas aired at that conference have been part of public scholarly discussion for the last five years, including many posts here at the Junto. Now we have the book itself, and we want to congratulate the editors and authors for their perseverance! Continue reading
This year I’m overhauling my early American survey course. Not only do I need to make it fit the schedule at my new institution, but because I’m planning to be teaching here for quite a while, I also want to build a course that carries my own signature, and where I can work out some of my own questions and ideas. Survey courses that I’ve taught before—like the one designed by Sarah Pearsall for Oxford Brookes University—have been themed around the violence of empire and slavery. Obviously, those continue to be both central concerns in teaching and the foci of cutting-edge scholarship. But in my search for something different, and for something that might capture the imaginations of my first-year students, I’ve chosen a different path: utopia. Continue reading
One of the best questions a historian can ask is, “what am I missing?” Whatever you’re investigating, and whatever stage you’re at, it’s always worth your while to step back and look around. If you’ve been focusing on something, using a particular lens, it can be pretty hard to pan out. That’s where setting aside time for more eclectic reading really helps—journals and blogs are convenient ways to keep your field of vision broad. Sometimes, they can give you a kick. That’s how I felt about the forum on women’s history in this summer’s issue of the Journal of the Early Republic. Continue reading
Summer! That wonderful, studentless, seminar-free oasis of uninterrupted relaxation, when we can all settle down to some quality time with those alluring new acquisitions on our bookshelves—and maybe even tackle some of the glowering doorstops that have remained there unread for all too long. Yes, we know it’s a complete fantasy, but it’s a pleasant one to indulge in while the last few exam scripts are being marked and three months of self-direction are stretching in front of you (and while we wait for Zara Anishanslin and Alan Taylor‘s books to come out!). In that spirit, I thought I’d share the handful of books I’ve been fantasising about reading this summer . We’d love you to pitch in with your own lists in the comments. Continue reading
Rounding off this week’s roundtable on travel to the archives, we are pleased to present a guest post by Dr. Aaron Graham, a Stipendiary Lecturer in History at New College, Oxford, and author of Corruption, Party, and Government in Great Britain, 1702-1713 (Oxford University Press, 2015). Aaron is currently working on corruption, finance and empire in North America and the West Indies during the long eighteenth century.
Archives in Jamaica and the West Indies tend to be overlooked. “There are duplicates of the whole lot in the [Public] Record Office in London,” one colonial official noted in 1928, “[and] researchers will work in London rather than here.” My recent visit to the Jamaica Archives and National Library of Jamaica suggests this is not entirely true. The papers that were sent back to Britain tended only to be those of interest to the imperial government, and although large amounts of material have been lost or destroyed by the climate, what remains in Jamaica can shed important light on society in the West Indies from the colonial, rather than imperial perspective. Although there are frustrating gaps in all of these series, by the standards of other archives in the West Indies they are uniquely rich, and the surface has still only been scratched. Continue reading
Do we live in revolutionary times? It’s tempting to imagine so. Bernie Sanders’ promise of “a political revolution” resonated with surprising numbers of Americans, especially the young. The Nuit Debout has captured some of the same spirit in France. Dramatic moments like the Oxi vote in Greece and the Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong have followed the so-called Arab Spring and global Occupy movement. In spite of their failures and betrayals, those movements seemed to reveal revolutionary sentiment in east and west.
Yet in a recent interview for Dissent, David A. Bell, a historian of the French Revolution, put something of a counterpoint. “If we look at the broad sweep of modern history from the eighteenth century to the present,” he said, “we see that revolution has lost its salience as a political concept.” Continue reading