Monday, April 9, 2012

“Capitalism by Gaslight” Program Now Available

“Capitalism by Gaslight: The Shadow Economies of 19th-Century America,” a two-day symposium co-sponsored by the Library Company of Philadelphia and the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, will highlight the many ways Americans earned livings through economic transactions made beyond the spheres of “legitimate” commerce and explore the crucial importance of the shadow economy to the development of commercial and industrial capitalism in nineteenth-century America. It takes its inspiration from the Library Company's current exhibition “Capitalism by Gaslight.” In the words of the organizers,Wendy Woloson and Brian Luskey,
. . . this conference highlights the innovative research being done by historians of capitalism and its culture. These scholars examine the many ways in which Americans earned a living through economic transactions made beyond the spheres of legitimate commerce. Although these shadow economies may have unfolded off the books, they were anything but marginal. They were, rather, crucially important parts of the mainstream economy, bound up in the development of commercial and industrial capitalism in nineteenth-century America. . . . The practices, networks, and goods that constituted shadow economies often paralleled and in some instances overlapped with those found in wholesale and retail businesses, calling into question the morality and legitimacy of legal economic transactions. By bringing these economies out of the shadows, [we] seek to clarify what capitalism was and the ways in which it shaped nineteenth-century America.
The program is available on the meeting website, as well as information about registration and travel. The meeting will take place Thursday, June 7, at the McNeil Center (3355 Woodland Walk) and Friday, June 8, at the Library Company.