Jonathan Levy

Professor of US History, Fundamentals, and the College
Associate Member, Law School
Faculty Affiliate, Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture
PhD 2008 University of Chicago
MA 2003 University of Chicago
BA 2000 Yale University

Social Science Research Building., room 504 – Office
(773) 702-8369 – Office telephone
(773) 702-7550 – Fax

Mailing Address

The University of Chicago
Department of History
1126 E. 59th Street, Mailbox 32
Chicago, IL 60637

Field Specialties

United States; economic history; capitalism; global and comparative history; legal history; intellectual history; slavery and emancipation

Biography

I am a historian of economic life in the United States, with interests in the relationships between business and economic history, political economy, legal history, and the history of ideas. My research and teaching span the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and are increasingly preoccupied with global and comparative questions.

I am currently at work on a number of projects. The first is an interpretive history of US capitalism, Ages of American Capitalism, which is forthcoming from Random House. The book narrates American economic life from British colonial settlement to the great recession of 2008.

Another project is a history of the relationship between corporations and profit in the United States. I am interested in the accounting history of the category profit. Preliminary work on this topic can be found in "Accounting for Profit and the History of Capital," Critical Historical Studies 1, no. 2 (Fall 2014): 171–214.

I am also exploring how and why corporations, long defined with respect to property and sovereignty, had their personalities redefined in relationship to profit (for profit or nonprofit) in the late nineteenth-century United States, as well in tracing the subsequent dynamics among for profits, nonprofits, and the fiscal state across the twentieth century. Two recent pieces on this topic can be found here: "From Fiscal Triangle to Passing Through: Rise of the Nonprofit Corporation” in Corporations and American Democracy (Cambridge, forthcoming); and "Altruism and the Origins of Nonprofit Philanthropy" in Philanthropy in Democratic Societies: History, Norms, Institutions (Chicago, 2016).

Finally, I am beginning to work on the history of global investment after World War II. I draw out the significance of this topic in "Stuck in a Gilded Age," Dissent  (Summer 2016).

My first book, Freaks of Fortune: The Emerging World of Capitalism and Risk in America (Harvard, 2012), is a history of risk in the United States. The book has a dual focus, tracing the simultaneous rise, in the context of slave emancipation, of a new individualist creed that equated freedom with risk-taking and a new corporate financial system of risk management. Freaks of Fortune won the Organization of American Historians' Frederick Jackson Turner Award, Ellis W. Hawley Prize, and Avery O. Craven Award and the American Society for Legal History's William Nelson Cromwell Book Prize.

Graduate Advising

I welcome applications from graduate students interested in US history and the history of economic life broadly construed.

Recent Courses Offered

Undergraduate

  • History of American Capitalism
  • Rise of the Modern Corporation
  • History of the American Workplace

Graduate

  • Capitalism Since 1970
  • Capitalist Transformations
  • History and Theory
  • History of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era
  • Political Economy Seminar: America and the World (with Amy Dru Stanley)

Publications (selected)

"From Fiscal Triangle to Passing Through: Rise of the Nonprofit Corporation." In Corporations and American Democracy, edited by Naomi Lamoreaux and William Novak. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming.

"Altruism and the Origins of Nonprofit Philanthropy." In Philanthropy in Democratic Societies: History, Norms, Institutions, edited by Rob Reich, Chiara Cordelli, and Lucy Bernholtz. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.

Coauthored with Jeremy Adelman. "The Fall and Rise of Economic History." Chronicle of Higher Education (December 1, 2014).

"Accounting for Profit and the History of Capital." Critical Historical Studies 1, no. 2 (Fall 2014): 171–214.

Freaks of Fortune: The Emerging World of Capitalism and Risk in America. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012.

  • Frederick Jackson Turner Award, Organization of American Historians
  • Avery O. Craven Award, OAH
  • Ellis. W. Hawley Prize, OAH
  • William Nelson Cromwell Book Prize, American Society for Legal History
  • Notable Title, Society for US Intellectual History

"'The Mortgage Worked the Hardest': The Fate of Landed Independence in Nineteenth-Century America." In Capitalism Takes Command: The Social Transformation of Nineteenth-Century America, edited by Gary J. Kornblith and Michael Zakim. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012.

"The Freaks of Fortune: Moral Responsibility for Booms and Busts in Nineteenth-Century America."The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 10, no. 4 (October 2011): 435–446.

"Contemplating Delivery: Futures Trading and the Problem of Commodity Exchange in the Unied States, 1875–1905." American Historical Review 111, no. 2 (April 2006): 307–335.