Category Archives: O’Connell Initiative
Fordham University was honored to host Professor Timothy Brook this last Wednesday in the McNally Auditorium as part of the O’Connell Initiative on the Global History of Capitalism. Prof. Brook has spent his prolific career studying cultural and social history in Southeast Asia. From the Ming Dynasty in 14th to 17th century China to the Japanese occupation of China during WWII, Dr. Brook has authored numerous monographs, including the acclaimed Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World (London: Profile Books, 2009) and, most recently, The Troubled Empire: China in the Yuan and Ming Dynasties (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2010).
Prof. Brook’s presentation, an ongoing research project titled “What to do when Chinese Try to Burn Down your Warehouse: Legal Plurality in Trading Ports at the Turn of the 17th Century,” was a captivating collection of stories and theories regarding the burgeoning role of capitalism in the Southeast Asian port city of Bantam. Eyebrow-raising title aside, Brook’s pithy and poignant ideas on capitalism gave the gathered crowd much to discuss in the following Q&A. During both the presentation and resulting discussion, Brook maintained that, “capitalism may have emerged in Europe, but only because of Europe’s engagement with the rest of the world.” Brook elaborated his examination of the legal troubles that plagued the Europeans’ imperialist endeavors through four stories culled from the diary of the early 17th century English trader Edmund Scott. Such legal troubles may have hampered immediate European imperialism in each specific case, but they may have also formed a framework by which the European powers could then apply when trading with other plundered nations. Such legal cases after all gave rise to Huig de Groot’s Mare Liberum and the ensuing legal debate on the law of the seas.
For more on Professor Brook’s talk, see here.
The first of the three Fall O’Connell lunch seminars was a great success. Faculty and graduate students engaged in a spirited discussion of Rebecca Spang’s Stuff and Money in the Time of the French Revolution and the role money played in creating a gulf between political ideals and daily life. Join us for the second lunch seminar on Thursday, Nov. 3, 12:00pm-2:00pm (LC, 12 th floor, President’s Dining Room) to discuss James R. Fichter’s So Great a Profit: How the East Indies Trade Transformed Anglo-American Capitalism.
On Thursday October 6 12:00-1:00PM in Duane Library 140 (Theology Conference Room) the History Department will hold the first of our 2016 O’Connell lunchtime seminars. In our first meeting, we will discuss Rebecca Spang’s Stuff and Money in the Time of the French Revolution (Harvard, 2015). Spang’s new history highlights the crucial role of money in the creation of a gulf between political deals and daily life at the time of the French Revolution, artfully restoring economic considerations to the heart of the Revolution and modern history. A recent reviewer writes that it asks “a penetrating set of questions about the general issue of how we should understand social experience and its political consequences in the French Revolution, and beyond.” Please come and join us for a stimulating discussion of this book the issues that it raises for the global history of capitalism.
Members of the Fordham community who would like to take part in the seminar and would like a copy of the book are asked to RSVP to ndeantonis at fordham dot edu by September 23. Copies will also be available for loan in the History department office.
This year, in conjunction with the department’s O’Connell Initiative, the History Department awarded a $250 O’Connell Research Award for the most original graduate student research on the history of global capitalism. This year’s winner was MA student Grace Healy, who won for her final research paper entitled “Swamp or Climax Region? Congressional Perceptions of the Everglades, 1947-1989” We asked Grace for details of her research, and she reports:
My project focused on the Everglades in South Florida, specifically the way in which members of Congress have thought about that landscape over the course of the second half of the twentieth century. As the people who mark the boundaries of land that will be preserved, I believe that congressmen’s perceptions of land, ecosystems, and the environment in general are an important aspect of conservation history.
I became interested in the Everglades because I enjoy analyzing the contradictory (or balanced, based on your perspective) way that Americans have managed land. For example, large portions of the Everglades are being protected because of its distinct environment. At the same time, however, vast tracts of the Everglades have been altered and manipulated for commercial reasons. I think that attempting to understand why certain types of landscapes are managed in these divergent forms is not only important to a historical understanding of the United States but also relevant to the environmental movement going forward.Professor Stoll was an excellent mentor throughout this project. At times he pushed me to think more critically about certain aspects, at other times he knew exactly what text I should read to gain more insight. I think he was most helpful when I was I was still developing my ideas. It can be really difficult to find the right project that can be completed in about a semester and half. Professor Stoll really helped me tailor my ideas so I could deeply investigate this one important aspect of the Everglades.
Steven Stoll became a member of the Fordham History Department in 2008. His classes and research focus on the history of capitalism and environmental history and more specifically how these two topics intersect. Stoll’s work is extremely relevant today as politicians and scientists debate climate change; activists and industry clash over fracking; California struggles through drought; and farmers raise ethical concerns about GMOs. But what is environmental history? For Stoll, environmental history is the story of how humans have changed the planet, how societies have lived well (or not so well) with the environment, and how different societies at different points in time have thought about ‘nature’. He explained that people’s ideas about the Earth and the environment have changed drastically over the last 400 years. Stoll said, “Students, and a lot of other people, look at New York City and how we live today—the kinds of houses we live in, the kinds of energies and conveniences we have—and though they know it hasn’t always been this way, they assume that all of this is normal, that things are supposed to be this way.. I try to show them that our way of life has existed for an astonishingly short period of time. To me, the most exciting use of history is to take ideas that people think are universal or derived from ‘nature’ and reveal their recent origins.”
Professor Stoll questions the notion of progress, his views are in direct opposition to what most of his students and readers learned growing-up in Western society. Walt Disney World’s Carousel of Progress celebrates progress without any critical examination and perpetuates the idea that each new technological advancement is an inevitable improvement to society. However, Stoll argues that there is no “spirit of progress embedded in human history” driving technological change. He explains that technological progress “occurs for very specific reasons, but always because someone invents something that fulfills a social goal.” What constitutes progress depends on who benefits from technological change, he says. Stoll encourages his students and readers to step outside of their lives and experiences to critically examine the world.
He laughed good naturedly while saying, “My courses are about how everything we know comes out of the past, just like any other historian.” His course on North American environmental history is not just abstract topics (like the nature of progress) but covers people, inventions, and events like the Erie Canal, the construction of American railroads, the fate of the passenger pigeon, the Ice-Age migration of American-Indians, and the history of industrialization. He explores the interaction between capitalism and the environment in his two books The Fruits of Natural Advantage: Making the Industrial Countryside in California and Larding the Lean Earth: Soil and Society in Nineteenth- Century America.
Stoll is currently working on his fifth book, which focuses geographically on the Appalachian Mountains. “At first, I didn’t really know what I wanted to say about it, honestly. It’s a big and complicated place. But I knew I wanted write about how the people who lived in the mountains lost their land, how mountain people who lived in log cabins became coal miners, not necessarily by choice, but how the industry and the state transformed their environment and forced them into wage work as the only way to make a living.” In his book on Appalachia, Stoll examines how ‘mountain people’ lived independently with their own system and means of survival and the factors led to the destruction of this way of life. He also explores aspects of mountain society itself, like population growth and environmental erosion, and also how society changed when “capital came into the mountains.” The book covers Appalachia between the Whiskey Rebellion and the Great Depression.
Long after speaking with Dr. Stoll my brain was stuck on the slice of avocado I had with my lunch. Who grew this avocado? Who owned the land it was grown on? Who, if anyone, owned the genetic code in the seeds? Who picked and packaged this fruit? What are the conditions under which they work? If it was a California avocado, how much water did it take to grow this fruit? Who has the ‘right’ to water during a shortage,? It was just an avocado, which I had eaten so many times before but now it was so much more than that.
If you’re interested in Steven Stoll’s work you can read his article “No Man’s Land” published online in the Orion Magazine, as well as his two books The Fruits of Natural Advantage: Making the Industrial Country Side in California and Larding the Lean Earth: Soil and Society in Nineteenth-Century America. And, of course, be on the look-out for his upcoming monograph on Appalachia.
Last Day to Register: O’Connell Initiative Inaugural Event- Sven Beckert on Global History of Capitalism
Just a reminder that today is the last day to register for next Thursday’s major event inaugurating the O’Connell Initiative, Sven Beckert’s talk on “Tracking the Global History of Capitalism”. The talk is at 6PM at the Lincoln Center Campus and a reception will follow. Come along and hear one of this country’s most exciting historians talk about the importance of the global historical perspective! You can register for the talk here.