This panel builds on and departs from existing efforts in two related ways. First, we attempt to integrate the older focus on the consolidation of corporate power, the naturalization of inequality, and the contested transition to conflict and reform within an unreservedly capitalist frame with the more recent investigations of shifting financial epistemes by focusing on “economic life.” “Economic life” stands at the intersection of everyday activities and life as capitalized (something that has received more attention in the literature on antebellum slavery). This means engaging with the intellectual, legal, gender, and visual aspects of economic activities such as investment, prediction, and assertions to property and managerial control from the bottom up and top down, including both popular science and the professionalizing sciences of the Gilded Age.
Eli Cook’s paper on “Humanizing Capital and Capitalizing Humans” reveals the Gilded Age origins of the human capital concept and the role of its inventors--physicists, chemists, economists, self-help gurus and businessmen--in legitimating inequality and delineating the boundaries of reform as self-uplift. Liat Spiro’s paper, “Drafting Protection for Immaterial Property in the Age of Heavy Industry,” traces how Gilded Age machinery and machine-tools firms used depiction practices, from mechanical drafting to metallography, to simultaneously refashion industrial work processes and make and defend intellectual property claims through the accumulation of “ghost property,” or visual evidence of every step or material rendered in production. Jamie Pietruska’s paper, “Promises of Love and Money: Occult Forecasting in Early Twentieth-Century New York City,” shows how a fin-de-siècle boom in fortune-telling and astrology accompanied the rise of agricultural statistics and commodity price forecasting as part of a wider prediction culture in which women as well as men produced, consumed, and hoped to leverage knowledge of the future in economic daily life.