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. Rhode, University of Michigan; Alan L. Olmstead, University of California, Davis
States, Not Nation: The Sources of Political and Economic Development in the Early United States
Naomi R. Lamoreaux, Yale University; John J. Wallis, University of Maryland, College Park
Slavery, Capitalism, and Commodification
Caitlin Rosenthal, University 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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