Money, Markets, Mania: American Capitalism from Colonization to the Gilded Age

History R1B.002

Spring 2018
106 Dwinelle
Day & Time: 
TuTh 5-6:30
Class Number: 

What is capitalism, how did it develop in the United States, and how have historians studied it? These are the principal questions that will guide this course on the history of American capitalism from the colonial period to the Gilded Age. From the mud machines dredging Baltimore’s harbor to the coal mines of Colorado, we will survey a broad range of people and places to examine how they have shaped and been shaped by capitalism’s development. Though our focus will be on the economic history of the US, we will explore capitalism’s relationship to a variety of changes that defined American history during this period: territorial expansion, colonialism, slavery, urban development, industrialization, financial instability, the construction of race and gender, ecological transformation, and more. Throughout we will engage in an enduring debate about how to define capitalism: Is it best understood as a system of beliefs, a set of institutions, or a distinctive mode of economic production? To find answers, the course encourages you to think broadly about what constitutes capitalism by studying its historical trajectory. This is a reading and writing intensive class, where you will develop your ability to think critically, read carefully, and write persuasively—skills essential for a variety of professional endeavors and for social and political engagement. But you will cultivate these skills in a specific way: by learning how to think historically and “do” history. Each week you will read historical scholarship and examine primary sources to develop your ability to interrogate arguments and make counterarguments, to sort and evaluate evidence, and to use evidence to interpret the past.