Histories of Capitalism

Conference puts economics at center of interdisciplinary questions
Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Bank financing of slavery in the 1840s. Feminist reimaginings of capitalism. Nature, science and folklore, and how they relate to capitalism.

These are some of the topics that will be explored in the second “Histories of Capitalism” conference Sept. 29 through Oct. 1 at Cornell.

More than 100 international scholars, including many graduate students and emerging scholars, are slated to give presentations at the multi-disciplinary conference, part of the university’s History of Capitalism initiative.

It will feature pieces of histories from around the world and across many centuries, said Associate Professor Louis Hyman, director of ILR’s Institute for Workplace Studies, based in New York City.

“The Histories of Capitalism conference is part of the broad swell within the historical profession to put the economy back at the center of our questions,” he said.

“It goes beyond a narrow interest in ‘just business leaders’ to encompass the whole of economic institutions in which we, and our ancestors, spend our waking lives.”

“To study capitalism is to confront, with sober eyes, the soaring heights of human creativity and the desperate valleys of human cruelty,” Hyman said.

“This particular conference will be pushing the connections between capitalism and areas of history that we do not normally associate with the economy: like science or nature,” he said.

“Bridging these new kinds of connections is both intellectually satisfying and professionally enriching.”

Hyman organized the conference with Professor Lawrence B. Glickman, who teaches in Cornell’s Department of History in the College of Arts & Sciences.

The history of capitalism is a great rubric for establishing interdisciplinary dialogue, said Glickman, who is co-teaching a history of capitalism graduate seminar with Assistant Professor Victor Seow of Cornell’s Department of History.

The seminar has attracted students from art history, anthropology, literature, government, sociology and other disciplines, Glickman said.

Hyman said Cornell has become a crossroads for conversations about the history of capitalism.

“By studying capitalism’s past, we can better understand the challenges that we face today in our bewildering economy,” Hyman said.

“Technological progress, social conflict and vast inequality are nothing new, but they are as frightening today as they were in our history.”

“Hopefully, by understanding how our ancestors overcame these challenges, or were overcome by them, we can offer wisdom for the difficulties of today.”

Conference presentations are free for undergraduates and a reduced fee is available for graduate students. The public is invited; the conference fee includes meals. All attendees must preregister.

The Thursday plenary will be held in the Hollis E. Cornell Auditorium in Goldwin Smith Hall. All Friday and Saturday sessions will be in the ILR Conference Center.