Monday, December 15, 2014

Sven Beckert on Slavery and Capitalism in the Chronicle Review

Chronicle Review, December 14, 2014
The current issue of the Chronicle Review has a long essay by Sven Beckert on "Slavery and Capitalism": "What distinguishes today's historians of capitalism is that they insist on its contingent nature,
tracing how it has changed over time as it has revolutionized societies, technologies, states, and many if not all facets of life." Citing scholars including Seth Rockman, Edward Baptist, Caitlin Rosenthal, and Walter Johnson, Beckert concludes that
There are still many open questions about slavery and capitalism, some specific, some broad. We have not yet conclusively shown, for example, how methods of labor control migrated from the world of the plantation to the world of the factory. We need more-detailed research on where the profits from slavery accumulated in Europe and the American North, and how they mattered to other sectors of the economy. We would benefit from a better understanding of how the tight economic connection between Northern entrepreneurs and slavery came to be undone. And we have only begun to account for what the rethinking of slavery does to our more general understanding of capitalism.
Beckert is Laird Bell Professor of History at Harvard University and author most recently of Empire of Cotton: A Global History (2014); he is the co-director of the Program on the Study of Capitalism at Harvard.