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
Students of the early American republic: I urge you to apply to SHEAR 2016’s Graduate Research Seminars!
The program, which debuted last year, brings together grad students and senior faculty clustered around four “hot” themes in the field for an hour and a half or so of small-group discussion. Lunch is free. The sessions are open to current graduate students and those who earned a Ph.D. during the 2015-16 academic year. A one-page dissertation abstract is all it takes to apply. Best of all, this year’s lineup of topics and faculty is just as wonderful as 2015’s was. Continue reading
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.”
How 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
It’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
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
Abigail 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
Abigail L. Swingen, Competing Visions of Empire: Labor, Slavery, and the Origins of the British Atlantic Empire (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2015).
There 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.