Caitlin C. Rosenthal

Assistant Professor
Office Hours: 
Thursday 2:30-4:30
2225 Dwinelle
(510) 642-5524

Harvard University, Cambridge, MA

PhD History of American Civilization, 2012, MA History, 2010, Presidential Scholar
Dissertation: "From Memory to Mastery: Accounting for Control in America, 1750-1880"
Committee: Sven Beckert, Claudia Goldin, Stanley Engerman, Outside reader: Seth Rockman

Rice University, Houston, TX
BA Science with Honors, January 2005, summa cum laude,

Research Interests: 

My research explores the history of numeracy and its relationship to American capitalism and democracy. Numeracy—which is to mathematics what literacy is to reading—includes all kinds of quantitative practices, from everyday arithmetic to sophisticated financial reporting, information technology, and accounting. I study the ways legal and social institutions shape these practices and the impact of calculation on political and moral reasoning. Today numbers are everywhere, occupying a privileged rhetorical status that began to emerge in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. As novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe reflected in 1853, numbers could increasingly be “found on all sides of every subject to an extent that is really very confusing.”

My interest in information technologies grew out of my recently completed doctoral dissertation, “From Memory to Mastery.” The project charts the transformation of numerical reasoning in America between 1750 and 1880. I use a wide array of quantitative and partially quantitative records to show how accounting evolved from a system of recordkeeping into an instrument of control and analysis—from an aid to memory to an instrument of mastery. I also describe the sophisticated accounting practices that supported harsh labor regimes on slave plantations in the American South, a finding that provided the impetus for my first book project.

This study, From Slavery to Scientific Management (under contract at Harvard University Press), investigates the complex relationship between slavery and capitalism in American history. Traditional narratives in business and economic history begin in the factories of England and New England, extending only much later to the American South. I begin, instead, on West Indian sugar plantations in the late eighteenth century, tracing the development of business practices forward to the rise of Taylorism in the early twentieth century. I use account books and financial records as a window into the business practices of early planters, showing how slavery and the slave trade actually facilitated the development of modern management practices.

Other research interests include the evolution of historical art markets, the history of photography, and corporate social responsibility. Outside of academic life, I run, bike, paint, cook, read mystery novels and make bad jokes.

Fellowships and Awards
Krooss Dissertation Prize in Business History 2013
Finalist for the Allan Nevins Prize in American Economic History 2013
Finalist for the SHEAR Dissertation Prize  2013
PEAES Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Library Company of Philadelphia (declined) 2013
Mellon Fellowship at Washington University, Modeling Interdisciplinary Inquiry (declined) 2013
Harvard-Newcomen Fellow in Business History, Harvard Business School 2012-2013
Ira Unschuld Fellowship at the John Carter Brown Library 2012
Harvard Presidential Dissertation Completion Fellowship 2011-2012 
Thomas Cochran Fellowship in Business and Economic History 2010-2011
Certificate of Distinction for Excellence in Teaching the “History of American Capitalism” 2011
Alfred Chandler Travel Grant, Business History Conference 2011 
Economic History Association Travel and Data Grant 2010
American Antiquarian Society Botein Residential Research Fellowship in Book History 2010
PEAES Fellowship at the Library Company of Philadelphia 2010
Charles Warren Center for American History Travel Award 2010
Business History Conference Doctoral Colloquium 2010
Certificate of Distinction for Excellence in Teaching “Western Ascendancy” 2010
Harvard Presidential Scholar 2007-2009
Rice University Century Scholar and Trustee Distinguished Scholar 2001-2005
Tsanoff Prize 2004


Representative Publications: 

Academic publications

“Slavery’s Scientific Management: Accounting for Mastery.” Slavery's Capitalism.  Eds. Seth Rockman, S. Beckert, and D. Waldstreicher. University of Pennsylvania Press (Forthcoming)

"From Memory to Mastery: Accounting for Control in America, 1750-1880," Enterprise & Society (December 2013)

“Storybook-keepers: Numbers and Narratives in Nineteenth-Century America” Common-Place (April 2012)

“Fundamental Freedom or Fringe Benefit: Rice University and the Evolution of Academic Tenure, 1935-1963.” Journal of Academic Freedom, a peer-reviewed publication of the AAUP (2011)

“HIV/AIDS Care Programs for American Indians and Alaska Natives.”  With David D. Barney and Betty E.S. Duran, Speaking in Red. eds.Ethan Nebelkopf and Mary Phillips. Altamira Press: Lanaham, MD. (2004)

“Components of Successful HIV/AIDS Case Management in Alaska Native Villages.” With David D. Barney and Tracey Speier.  AIDS Education and Prevention.  (16:3) (2004)

“The Significance of Gender in Explaining the Effects of Migration on Mexican Child Health.” With Katherine M. Donato, Melissa Stainback, and Shawn Malia Kanaiaupuni. Perspectives.  (2004)

Book reviews 

Review of Paul Pressly, Georgia on the Rim of the Caribbean (2013) in The Journal of Southern History (Forthcoming)

Review of Louis Hyman, Borrow: The American Way of Debt (2012) in Industrial and Labor Relations Review (October 2012)

Review of Calvin Schermerhorn, Money over Mastery, Family over Freedom (2011) in Business History Review (October 2012)

Other writings and research profiles

"Plantations Practiced Modern Management," Harvard Business Review (September 2013)

“Big Data in the Age of the Telegraph,” McKinsey Quarterly (Q1 2013)

“The long, controversial history of for-profit education,” Bloomberg Echoes (October 2012)

"The Messy Link Between Slave Owners and Modern Management," HBS Working Knowledge (January 2013)

Conferences and Invited Presentations 

Nevins Prize Panel at the Economic History Association (September 2013)

Krooss Prize Panel at the Business History Conference (March 2013)

“Accounting for Survival: Organizational Technologies and Firm Performance, 1871-1881,” Yale Economic History Seminar, New Haven, CT (April 2013)

“The Speculator and the Winebibber: Accounting for Morality in Nineteenth-Century America,” Immoral Business:  Speculation, Speculators, and Scandalous Profits. Berlin, Germany (January 2013)

“Ready Reckoning: Technologies of Calculation and Computation.”Invited talk at Paper Technologies of Capitalism Symposium.  Brown University, Providence, RI (September 2012)

“A Common Language of Accounts: Networks of Management Expertise,” Foreign Confidence: International Investment in North America, 1700 to 1860.  Library Company, Philadelphia, PA (October 2012)

“Atlantic IT: The Quantification and Circulation of Information in the Atlantic World,” Fellow’s Talk.  John Carter Brown Library, Providence, RI (June 2012)

“Building Doctoral Programs in Business History,” Invited talk at “Teaching Business History.” Harvard Business School, Boston, MA. (June 2012)

“Teaching the History of Capitalism,” Panel Chair and Conference Organizer (with Noam Maggor). Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. (November 2011)

Commentator on “Trading Tin in an Era of Decolonization,” Natural Resources and Government-Business Relations. Harvard Business School, Boston, MA (June 2012)

“The Business of Slavery: Education and Professionalization in Slave Societies,” Part of panel organized for the upcoming Organization of American Historians Meeting.  Milwaukee, WI (April 2012)

“Everyday Calculations: Varieties of Commercial Numeracy in Early America,” Part of panel co-organized for the American Historical Association Meeting with Thomas Wickman.  Chicago, IL (January 2012)

“Accounting for Control: Plantation Accounts in an Age of Commerce,” Merchant Accounting and Profits in Europe and the Americas, 1650-1850.  MARPROF Conference.  Paris, France (June 2011)

“Slavery, Common Schools, and Counting Houses: Knowledge of Accounts in Antebellum America.” Business History Conference.  St. Louis, MO (April 2011)“Masters into Managers: Accounting for Control in 19th Century America.” Slavery’s Capitalism Conference.  Providence and Boston (April 2011)

“From Slavery to Scientific Management: Plantation Accounting in 19th Century America.” Workshop on the Political Economy of Modern Capitalism. Cambridge, MA (March 2011)

“From Slavery to Scientific Management: Plantation Accounts in Antebellum America.” Gothenburg Graduate Course in Economic History.  Gothenburg, Sweden (October 2010)

“Accounting for Control: Book-keeping in Early Nineteenth-Century America.” Fellows Talk.  Library Company of Philadelphia.  Philadelphia, PA (October 2010)

“From Memory to Mastery: Book-keeping in Early Nineteenth-Century America.” Fellows Talk.  American Antiquarian Society.  Worcester, MA (September 2010)

 “A Market for Specialties: Selling Art in 19th Century America.” Business History Conference.  Athens, GA (March 2010)

“Accounting for Control: Book-keeping and the Transformation of Nineteenth-Century America.” Oxford Journals Dissertation Prospectus Colloquium.  Business History Conference.  Athens, GA (March 2010)

“Frederick Winslow Taylor and the Optimistic Science of Scientific Management.” U.S. Intellectual History Conference.  New York (November 2009)