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

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A Very Old Book: The Case for Eric Hobsbawm’s Age of Revolution

DraperOhara

Put the poetry down, Don. It’s time to get your Chartism on.

Last year marked the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Eric Hobsbawm’s Age of Revolution, 1789-1848, a milestone that was largely overlooked in the more general hubbub over the great historian’s death in October. But it’s an impressive number all the same, and an inescapable reminder that when we return to The Age of Revolution we are dealing with a Very Old Book. The battered cover of my own 1962 Signet paperback (see below), whose author still preferred the high-academic modesty of “E.J. Hobsbawm,” offers a striking visual proof of the antiquities that lie within. It is after all technically possible, and perhaps not as improbable as you may think, for this book to have lain on Don Draper’s desk. When he was still married to Betty Draper.

What can a 21st century early American historian learn from such an artifact? Amid the clamors and confusions of the debate over the New New Political History, why should anyone bother to resuscitate the  Old? Can we learn anything vital about the Age of Revolution in a book written during the Age of Draper? Well, obviously, the answer is yes. Continue reading