[Marxism] Seth Rockman page at Brown University

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Apr 26 06:45:57 MDT 2015

Trained broadly as an early Americanist, I am interested in three 
historical trajectories that converged in the late-eighteenth century: 
the emergence of capitalism in the Atlantic World, the rise of New World 
Slavery, and the articulation of liberal conceptions of human agency and 
personal freedom. Integrating economic, labor, and cultural history, my 
work explores the social experience of economic change in the decades 
surrounding the American Revolution. In 2003, I published Welfare Reform 
in the Early Republic: A Brief History with Documents with Bedford 
Books. Scraping By: Wage Labor, Slavery, and Survival in Early Baltimore 
came out in 2009 from Johns Hopkins University Press.

About Scraping By: Imagine Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, circa 
1818— that is, a very material look at how low-end workers found and 
kept jobs, navigated underground economies, employed clever strategies 
to keep households afloat, and what happened when they failed. Scraping 
By situates enslaved mariners, white seamstresses, Irish dockhands, free 
black domestic servants, and native-born street-sweepers in the same 
labor market, on the same jobsites, and ultimately within the same 
political economy of early republic capitalism. As a "labor history of 
unskilled labor" and one of the first studies to consider such diverse 
workers side-by-side, Scraping By explores how race, sex, nativity, and 
legal status determined the opportunities and vulnerabilities of working 
families. This study focuses on Baltimore between 1790 and 1840, when 
this boomtown was the nation's third-largest city, had the nation's 
largest population of color, and (perched at the boundary of North and 
South) saw its number of free and enslaved workers grow simultaneously. 
Sources include construction site payrolls, employment advertisements, 
almshouse records, court petitions, and speeches from the nation's first 
"living wage" campaign.

Scraping By is fundamentally a study of capitalism and class in the 
post-Revolutionary US. In advance of the book, I have published several 
stand-alone essays on 1) integrating slavery into histories of 
capitalism, and 2) the viability of class analysis for the early 
republic United States. This work suggests that at a time when issues of 
globalization, free trade, corporate accounting, and fair labor 
practices dominate the headlines, economic history is too important to 
be left to traditional economic historians. Eschewing social-scientific 
models of human behavior and market mechanisms, I propose a history of 
American capitalism that recognizes the cultural and social forces that 
constitute "the market" and shape a multiplicity of human responses to 
economic stimuli.

My new book project-- under contract with University of Chicago Press-- 
focuses on objects manufactured in the North for use on plantations in 
the American South. At the intersection of business history and material 
culture studies, I consider the multiple meanings of hoes, blankets, and 
machetes as they moved great distances and fell into different hands. 
These artifacts illuminate issues of slave resistance, abolitionism, 
business ethics, technological innovation, and Southern nationalism, 
while also situating entrepreneurs, factory laborers, planters, and 
slaves in the same narrative of economic development. By following 
"plantation goods" from production to consumption, it is possible to see 
the simultaneity of opportunity and oppression in American history.

In April 2011, Sven Beckert (Harvard) and I convened a three-day 
conference entitled "Slavery's Capitalism: A New History of American 
Economic Development." After a keynote address by President Ruth 
Simmons, seventeen scholars presented new research and engaged in 
vigorous discussion with commentators and the audience. Revised versions 
of these essays are now being prepared for publication in a volume to 
appear in the Early American Studies series at University of 
Pennsylvania Press.


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