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HIS590: American Slavery, American Capitalism

Historians traditionally claimed that slavery was an anachronistic institution that ran counter to the economic and industrial development of the U.S.

Historians traditionally claimed that slavery was an anachronistic institution that ran counter to the economic and industrial development of the U.S. Sooner or later, many historians argued, slavery was destined to come to an end because it was an outdated and premodern system diametrically opposed to the forward-looking, free-labor system of industrial capitalism emerging in the North. Based on a wide range of new scholarship that examines slavery in the context of the international capitalist economy, this course places slavery at the center of America's economic development. Where earlier historians attribute this development to white immigrants and creative inventors in the North, we will explore the ways that slave trading entrepreneurs and their ever more brutal and cruelly efficient systems of slave labor were just as essential to the story of America's rise as an economic and imperial powerhouse. While northern factories depended on a pool of labor from Europe, Southern planters achieved a mobile supply of labor by ripping families apart. Southern enslavers engaged in technical innovations, economies of scale, and new methods of financing their operations. It was in the South, not in the North, for example, that a modern banking system emerged, underwritten by investments in the bodies of human beings. Students in this course will reexamine slavery to reconstruct the American economic development through studying quantitative, and statistical data. In addition to reading from the new economic histories of American slavery, the stories of capital, finance, cotton, labor, and technology will be illustrated through primary sources such as newspapers and slave narratives.