Capitalism may have been denaturalized for one early American colonist after he attempted to purchase land from an Indian using hand gestures and wampum only to find out later that the Indian had no idea that such a transaction had taken place, much less that land could be someone’s private property—literally a foreign concept. Even today using words, historians have a hard time defining capitalism. Perhaps it is this illusive nature, yet immense influence, that explain why the history of capitalism is currently such a hot field. Students are invited to join this seminar who would like to research questions including, but more focused than: Where did capitalism come from, and how and when did it emerge? How has capitalism shaped conceptions of race and gender? How has capitalism influenced people’s desires, values, and conceptions of time, others, and themselves? How did the goal of life become synonymous with the “good life” for so many? Students are encouraged to contact the instructor before winter break, if possible, to begin the process of writing awesome 101 papers.
Daniel Robert studies the history of emotional labor, popular finance, corporate architecture, and print. His manuscript, “Courteous Capitalism,” reveals how American utility executives in the 1920s forced their clerks to provide courteous customer service in order to ingratiate monopoly capitalism with a skeptical public. He can be reached via email at daniel.m.robert(at)berkeley.edu.