Tuesday, October 4, 2016

History of Capitalism at AHA

Here is an interesting session scheduled for the meeting of the American Historical Association. Abstracts of each paper can be seen by clicking on the paper title. I have read the first two papers and like them a lot. The Lamoreaux and Wallis paper applies the North, Wallis and Weingast framework of movement from limited access orders to open access orders to the United states by examining changes at the state level during the antebellum period. If you wish to read the paper, it can be found quite easily by searching google scholar. The Rhode and Olmstead paper is a pretty devastating critique of the sloppy quantitative analysis of some of the most prominent “New Historians of Capitalism,” especially Baptist and Beckert. Similar arguments have been made online by me, Pseudoerasmus, and others, but the Rhode and Olmstead paper is very thorough. I haven’t read the Rosenthal paper, which seeks to provide a definition of capitalism that is consistent with both wage labor and slavery. I am somewhat skeptical that capitalism can be a useful analytical concept. The term carries too much baggage. Nevertheless I look forward to reading her paper at some point in the future.

Perspectives on the New History of Capitalism
AHA Session 321
Sunday, January 8, 2017: 11:00 AM-12:30 PM
Centennial Ballroom B (Hyatt Regency Denver, Third Floor)

William Summerhill, University of California, Los Angeles
The “New History of Capitalism,” Cotton, and Slavery
Paul W. RhodeUniversity of MichiganAlan L. OlmsteadUniversity of California, Davis
States, Not Nation: The Sources of Political and Economic Development in the Early United States
Naomi R. LamoreauxYale UniversityJohn J. WallisUniversity of Maryland, College Park
Slavery, Capitalism, and Commodification
Caitlin RosenthalUniversity of California, Berkeley
Eric Rauchway, University of California, Davis

Session Abstract
Research within what scholars have come to call the "New History of Capitalism" has revitalized interest in economic history among historians. This session provides an assessment of this work from diverse perspectives. One paper highlights significant problems in the interpretation of evidence in major studies within the New History of Capitalism that focus on slavery and the cotton economy. A second sheds new light on the critical role played by states in key changes that underpinned political and economic modernization in the antebellum era. And a third paper problematizes the scope of phenomena encompassed by capitalism, as the term is presently employed, in order to craft an operational definition that accommodates both wage labor and slavery in antebellum America. Taken together the papers identify pitfalls in both traditional and new interpretations of antebellum economy and polity, while pointing the way forward for historians who seek to undertake research on the fundamental economic and political issues of the era.

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