American Capitalism (Spring 2020)

How did capitalism emerge, expand and transform daily life in North America over the past 500 years? In this course, students will gain an in-depth understanding of how North America turned from a minor outpost of the Atlantic economy into the powerhouse of the world economy, how Americans built a capitalist economy and how that capitalism, in turn, changed every aspect of their lives.  In the process, they will come to understand how contemporary capitalism is the result of centuries of human engagement, struggle, and aspirations. Topics range from the structure of Native-American economies to the economic consequences of the Civil War; from the impact of capitalism on gender relations to the changing structures of American businesses; and from the position of the United States in the world economy to the role of the government in channeling economic development. Boston merchants and Georgia sharecroppers, enslaved cotton growers and reforming statesmen, workers at the Ford assembly line and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs will all appear in the story. The course will put particular emphasis on the global context of American economic development and situate it deeply in political and social changes. Ultimately, students will gain an understanding of how the contemporary capitalism that so powerfully shapes all of our lives has emerged over the course of several centuries, and how the tools to understand the history of American capitalism can be applied to understanding our contemporary situation. Assignments in particular will encourage students to think about contemporary problems from historical perspectives.

History of Global Capitalism: Seminar (Fall 2019-Spring 2020)

The history of capitalism is one of the most important topics in the study of the past, as the expansion of capitalism has revolutionized almost all aspects of human life in almost all areas of the world during the past 500 years. The seminar will introduce students to a lively debate among social scientists on what this capitalist revolution has been about and how best to explain it. We will read canonical texts in the field, debate current research and guide student research in the field. We will study capitalism from a global and historical perspective.  Students must complete both terms of this course (parts A and B) within the same academic year in order to receive credit.

Seminar on the Political Economy of Modern Capitalism

In the fall of 2005, Professors Sven Beckert (Deptartment of History) and Christine Desan (Harvard Law School) initiated a new research seminar on the Political Economy of Modern Capitalism. The workshop aimed to provide a forum for graduate students and faculty to engage in the intensive interdisciplinary study of capitalism, with particular attention to it as an historically-situated process of regulating social relations. The topic is unparalleled in importance.  As a political economic form, capitalism defines not only market dynamics, but also contemporary governance structures and social relations. The study of capitalist growth and development therefore attracts scholars from a wide variety of fields, and we believe that their contributions can powerfully stimulate mutual insight.