Capitalism predominates over much of the globe today. As a political economic form it defines not only market dynamics but also governance structures and social relations. The study of its growth and development therefore attracts scholars from a wide variety of fields; their contributions could powerfully stimulate mutual insight. Through a variety of workshops and conferences we aim to provide a forum for the intensive interdisciplinary study of capitalism as a historically situated order by bringing together faculty and graduate students from different departments within Harvard and beyond.
Historians and historically minded scholars in allied fields have long recognized that political and economic forces inform one another. They investigate the effect of economic structures on individuals and groups, produce accounts of political change sensitive to material interests, and identify agency within given political economic orders. But in doing so, they often treat the socio-political and economic worlds as discrete and intrinsically separate entities, implicitly endorsing the modern conception of the polity and economy as separate "spheres." Recent historiographic and disciplinary divisions have reinforced that tendency. Much historical research in the last several decades has eschewed political economic inquiry altogether for new questions about the power of culture and the play of race, gender, and religion in social order. At the same time, the disciplinary divide between economics and other disciplines has deepened. Economic historians—increasingly to be found in Economics rather than History departments—have approached the market order with tools, including mathematical models and cliometrics, developed to understand phenomena particularly defined as economic, often downplaying the political, cultural, and social embeddedness of markets.
We aim to identify emerging approaches to political economy and to facilitate interdisciplinary thinking on this important topic among students and faculty at Harvard. We seeks to tap the energy of new scholarship, working across the conventional boundaries that have constrained past work. In particular, we hope to create a unique forum for intellectual exploration and productive research.
The Program on the Study of Capitalism and the Workshop on the Political Economy of Modern Capitalism recieve generous support from a variety of sources, most recently the David Howe Fund for Business and Economic History, The Mahindra Humanities Center, Harvard Law School, the Charles Warren Center, and Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.