New Approaches to Globalizing the History of American Capitalism

AHA Session 265
Sunday, January 10, 2016: 11:00 AM-1:00 PM
Salon C (Hilton Atlanta, Second Floor)
Barbara Hahn, Texas Tech University
Network Advantages
Harold James, Princeton University
The International Origins of the 1975 New York City Fiscal Crisis
Michael Reagan, University of Washington Seattle
The Audience

Session Abstract

“New Approaches to Globalizing the History of American Capitalism”

In a September 2014 exchange in the Journal of American History on the history of capitalism, a number of scholars remarked on the need to highlight the transnational dimensions of capital and capitalism. “U.S. history remains provincial,” wrote one, “the history of capitalism should not simply be the history of U.S. capitalism. Local studies are necessary, but local places are embedded in regional, national and international processes.”  This roundtable takes that perspective to heart, highlighting the global forces that shaped the trajectory of capitalism in the United States.  By including papers that span the 19th and 20th centuries, this roundtable also seeks to foster a discussion across subfields of American and global history that will highlight similarities in the transnational study of capitalism across time.

Kathryn Boodry’s paper, “The World The Slaves Made,” explores how British finance contributed to making cotton king in the antebellum United States.  It looks at events around the panic of 1837 and Civil War, comparing the 1837 crisis to the absence of financial activity in cotton during the War. It demonstrates the importance of cotton to the development of an Atlantic financial system and the necessity of finance to the maintenance of plantation slavery in the antebellum South.

Harold James’s “Network Advantages” places the American debate over the formation of a central banking system in the early 20th century in a trans-Atlantic context.  By examining the City of London’s central place in the world trading system of the late 19th century, James will demonstrate that the rising industrial powers of the era – Germany and the United States - came to believe that they too required a strong central banking system, particularly after the financial panic of 1907. 

Michael Bartel’s paper, “The Race for the Last Great Undeveloped Market,” will argue that political détente lifted the taboo on doing business with communist states, and businesses leapt at the opportunity to exploit underdeveloped socialist markets. Because of this transition, the Cold War ultimately became a privatized conflict, carried out as much by private actors in the global marketplace as by public actors in the international community of nation-states.

Michael Reagan’s paper, “The International Origins of the 1975 New York City Fiscal Crisis,” uncovers how failed international markets contributed to the collapse of New York’s financial order. After Kennedy era legislation that prevented foreign bonds from being sold in US markets ended, the municipal bond market was flooded with double the dollar value of bonds in a single year.  The flooded market from Euro sellers led the municipal bond market to fail and began the crisis for New York City. 

Taken together, these roundtable discussants look at the ways that markets, firms, and capital from around the world dramatically influenced the history of capitalism in the United States.  Through this panel, the participants hope to begin a discussion with scholars from diverse subfields of American and global history about new transnational approaches to the study of capitalism.

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