SPR 19: Economic History, History of Political Economy and Capitalism

HIST 18101  Democracy in America?  (J. Sparrow)  This course will explore the unlikely career of democracy in US history. Throughout its past, the United States has been defined by endless and unpredictable struggles to establish and extend self-government of one kind or another—even as those struggles have encountered great resistance and relied on the exclusion or subordination of some portion of society to underwrite expanding freedom and equality for those enjoying the fullest benefits of citizenship. American democracy has also relied on a conceptual separation between state and society that has necessarily broken down in practice, as political institutions produced and sustained economic forms like slavery or the corporation, social arrangments like the family, and cultural values such as freedom—even as private interests worked their reciprocal influence over public institutions. Over the course of the quarter we will explore this contested history of democracy in America through a close reading of classic texts (including Tocqueville’s famous study), contextualized by the most current historical scholarship. Small, incremental writing assignments and individual presentations will culminate in a final essay that can emphasize philosophical/theoretical or historical/empirical questions according to students’ interests. Students will also have the option of conducting their own original research to satisfy some portion of the coursework, which may lead to subsequent internship opportunities with relevant faculty.

HIST 24810  China and Global Capitalism since 1911  (J. Werner, Collegiate Assistant Professor)  This course examines China's violent encounter with capitalism over the last century. How are we to explain the "failure" of China to follow the classical free-market path of development? Why did Marxism become such a powerful ideology in a country that was so incompletely capitalist, and what is the relation of the Mao era's "socialism" to capitalism? Is contemporary China a case of free-market excess or of state domination? How does today's US–China trade war rise from this history? In order to answer these questions, this course will develop capitalism as a category that goes beyond a narrow focus on economic issues. We will apply and evaluate several competing frameworks that allow us to conceptualize capitalism as simultaneously a global structure and an everyday practice of social life. Drawing upon these different approaches, we will interpret not just the movement of commodities and the dynamics of class division in China, but changing concepts and practices of gender and nation as well. Through these discussions we aim to understand how capitalism has shaped China while using China's experience to enrich our understanding of capitalism.

HIST 29525  The Global Life of Things  (O. Cussen, Von Holst Prize Lecturer)  We are often told that the market has taken over all aspects of our social lives. The effects of this process can be seen in the financialization of the economy, the deregulation of labor, and the exploitation of natural resources. Goods are produced on one side of the world and consumed in another. Even college students are seen as investments that accrue value. How did this happen? This course will examine the deep history of how so much of the world became commodities. Focussing primarily on the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, we will ask how work, time, land, money, and people were commodified. We will also consider how historians and anthropologists have told the history of global capitalism through particular commodities, including sugar, cotton, meat, grain and mushrooms. Readings will span western Europe, India, the Atlantic World, Chicago, and contemporary Japan. Periodically, we will reflect on how these histories bear on questions of labor, gender, and the environment in the present day.

HIST 29533  Economic History III: The Global Economy from Great Depression to Great Recession  (J. Levy)  This is the third part in the economic history sequence. Topics include the second Industrial Revolution and the new imperialism, the Great Depression and World War II, the American postwar world economic order, communism, and third-world development; globalization, growth, inequality, and climate change; the great recession.