Tag Archives: Economic History

Hamlin on the Building of Germany’s “Empire in the East”

Big news from Fordham History’s Professor David Hamlin!  On 13 July, Cambridge University Press published  Germany’s Empire in the East; Germans and Romania in an Era of Globalization and Total War. Where many studies of European empire in the twentieth century focus on imperial projects in the global south, Professor Hamlin’s book demonstrates the place of central and eastern Europe in that story and the important role of economic forces played in shaping global empires. The book tells how the Germans, when “confronted with the global economic and political power of the western allies…  turned to Eastern Europe to construct a dependent space, tied to Germany as Central America was to the US.” We reached out to Hamlin for some comments on the process and how the ideas for the book emerged.

The book was many years in the making; in part because it changed as I researched and wrote it.  Initially, I was expecting to explore how Germany transformed Romania into a dependency well before the First World War; it would be a story emphasizing continuity.  Instead, I found myself crafting a story of the impact of the First World War on German policy; it became a story of discontinuity.  Rather than a story narrowly about the longue durée of German imperial ambitions, it became an examination of how the disruption of commercial, financial, and legal links during the war reshaped how Germans viewed the international economy, and thus their links to their neighbors.  From that emerged a German variant of western imperialism, one that was a response to the conscious restructuring of global markets during the war.

The model of the modern research university assumes that a Professor’s research will shape and inform what he or she teaches.  That certainly was true for me.  I have gradually assigned greater weight to the First World War in my course on the Third Reich (Hitler’s Germany) as well as reshaping how I discuss Hitler’s dream of Lebensraum.  In my courses on European diplomatic history, I have added discussions of competing ideas of political and legal order and tried to link more clearly the experience of the First World War to the international goals of the Nazi Party.  I also try to link the British experience of economic warfare and the significance of global economic mobilization in the First World War to Neville Chamberlain’s policies in the late 1930s.

Congratulations Professor Hamlin, we look forward to seeing where your research will take you next.

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Grad Student Publications, A Summer Series: Pt. 1 Stephen Leccese

PhD student Stephen Leccese, who recently published two journal articles.

Students in Fordham’s MA and PhD programs produce original research of the highest quality, and are encouraged to publish this work when and where it is appropriate during their time in the program. The academic year 2016-2017 saw the appearance of articles by a number of our students in different peer-reviewed volumes and journals. We asked our students who published their work to tell us a little bit about the articles and the writing process and we’ll feature these students and their publications in a short blog series.

First up is Stephen Leccese, an American historian in the PhD program working with Professor Christopher Dietrich. Leccese has achieved the remarkable feat of publishing two journal articles virtually simultaneously. He wrote to tell us about both:

“John D. Rockefeller, Standard Oil, and the Rise of Corporate Public Relations in Progressive America, 1902-1908,” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era 16.3 (July 2017): 245-63.

This article is a shortened version of my Master’s research paper, which Prof. Chris Dietrich advised. I became interested in progressivism in Prof. Dietrich’s American Political and Intellectual History since 1877 class, particularly on how the “robber barons” defended themselves against attacks from progressive muckrakers who exposed businessmen’s unethical practices. For a case study, it was natural to look at the Standard Oil Company, the most visible of the great trusts and the subject of muckraker Ida Tarbell’s classic The History of the Standard Oil Company. Since the Supreme Court successfully dissolved Standard Oil in 1911, historians have exclusively considered the company’s response to Ida Tarbell insufficient from a public relations perspective. Yet from what I saw, no historians had actually examined what the company did do. That was how I found my historiographical gap. I decided to go into the archives and tell the story of how Standard Oil and John D. Rockefeller attempted to recover their reputations with public statements, official histories, and some of the first professional PR agents in American history. When placed in historical context, this response was groundbreaking – the field of PR was in its infancy, so Standard Oil agents were largely making this up as they went along. Going further, I tied this small study to the Progressive Movement at large. In the Standard Oil case, progressives attacked a corporation, and that corporation defended itself by developing the PR field. This started a trend of other businesses following suit, and by the 1920s the modern public relations field was largely established. Therefore, I argue that the anti-business activities of the progressives inadvertently helped big business establish itself. The editor of the Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era liked this provocative argument about progressivism, and it definitely helped get this article published.


“Economic Inequality and the New School of American Economics,” Special Issue – Growing Apart: Religious Reflection on the Rise of Economic Inequality, Religions 8.6 (2017): 99-110.

This article began life as my first-year PhD research paper, where I examined how a new generation of American economists argued that consumer spending was key to economic growth, breaking from previous classical economics. After some revising, I presented the paper at the Growing Apart: The Implications of Economic Inequality Interdisciplinary Conference at Boston College in March, 2016. After the conference, the organizers contacted me and said that my paper was among a group that they would like to publish in a special issue of the journal Religions (the conference sponsor was the BC theology department, hence the journal choice). I accepted and expanded the paper into a peer-reviewed piece. In the article, I examine how the various crises of the late nineteenth century – namely economic depression and increasing labor unrest – showed a group of younger economists that economic inequality was harmful to the social fabric. They argued that greater equality would create a working class that had increased spending power, which would lead to economic growth and more stable class relations. My main sources were numerous economic publications and several archival collections that these economists left behind. After establishing this new theory of consumption, I trace how the New Economists tried to put their ideas into practice. Importantly, they formed the American Economic Association in 1885 with the intention of spreading their message among the economic community. I conclude briefly by showing that by the 1890s, the New Economists were influencing public policy by working with politicians – particularly, several directly advised Theodore Roosevelt, first when he was governor of New York and later when he was president. The overall claim is that mass consumption was an aspect of social reform, something that is typically not considered in histories of consumerism.


Thanks Stephen, and congratulations on your two articles!


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First O’Connell Lunchtime Seminar: Stuff and Money in the Time of the French Revolution 10/06




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.


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The History of “Capital”: Steven Stoll on the Origins of the Term

John of Genoa

In anticipation of our Thursday event “Tracking the Global History of Capitalism” with Sven Beckert, we asked Professor Steven Stoll to tell us about the history of the term “capital”. Where does the word come from, and what does it say about the history of capitalism?

Professor Stoll writes:

Sven Beckert’s Empire of Cotton is about how cotton became the key commodity in the making of nineteenth-century global capitalism. It’s the story of land and slavery, financiers and merchants, and competition between the American South and India for dominance in production. But Beckert hesitates to define capital or capitalism. Here is a quick take and a few thoughts about the word itself and the world it creates.

Capital is money in motion. It’s not a bag of seed or a college education or an idea for a new business or your terrific potential as an artist or the car you drive to work. It’s not even the same thing as wealth. If capital is any of these things, then it’s existed for as long as Homo sapiens and has no historical specificity. It is surplus value in the act of generating surplus value–profit that creates profit. Marx expressed it as M→C (LP + MP)→P→C’→M+∆M, in which Money is advanced to buy Commodities, consisting of Labor-Power, the Means of Production (which would include land or factories and raw material). Labor is the most important purchase because it is the only factor that creates more value than it costs. If a capitalist pays someone $10 for a day’s work he can use their labor-power to manufacture $100 in widgets. Labor combined with the means of production results in second-order Commodities. These must be sold for the original Money advanced, plus an increment (the surplus-value). Money does not become capital until or unless it is advanced. To paraphrase Forest Gump, capital is as capital does.[i]

The word first appeared between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries for the top or head of something (from caput, or head), like the Corinthian capital of a marble column. It referred to the greatest height or degree, like a capital crime, a capital enemy, capital wounds, and a seat of government (all between 1400 and 1600). At the same time capital developed toward an important sum of money. Fernand Braudel found this sense of the word in Italian as far back as 1211. St. Bernardino of Siena wrote in the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century of “that prolific cause of wealth we commonly call capital.” But sums of money had not yet become perpetuating funds.

Other English words carried similar meanings. Cattle and chattel came into English between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, not as words for barnyard creatures but for property, goods, and even money itself. Horses, oxen, and bovines became cattle (around 1400) because they were significant property. The word did not refer to animals as animals in the fifteenth century and did not refer specifically to bovines until the sixteenth century. Stock, another word for accumulated value, stood for something that sprouted and spawned endlessly like a stem or tree trunk until about 1380 when it shows up as a word for domesticated animals. It did not describe a growing herd of livestock until the sixteenth century. But once it did, around that time, stock took a turn. It began to take on meanings similar to capital. It 1526 it referred to money that could be invested, and by 1714 the word was in common use as the subscribed capital of a merchant house.

Capital pulled away from these other words. By the time Smith published The Wealth of Nations political economists in Britain and France had already given capital the meaning it carries today. Smith used the term “capital stock,” suggesting money that reproduced a percentage of itself in a given time. According to Braudel a Russian consul made the essential distinction, reporting that France under Napoleon Bonaparte fought “with her capital,” while the countries that France invaded fought “with their income.” For centuries few institutional pathways existed for employing income in order to earn income. Capital appeared along with these pathways, as people needed a word to differentiate this new entity from merchant wealth and the dividends represented by lambs and calves.[ii]

Historians ask all sorts of questions about capital. One of them is who is inside and who outside its creation. If the owner of one of a sandwich shop on 9th Avenue in New York City reinvests some of her profit by buying bread and tomatoes or by making improvements to the kitchen does that make her a capitalist? What if she has a retirement account with a brokerage firm? Is she a capitalist for making a living in a society organized by capital? To think so blurs categories. It equates the owner of a bodega to the owners of Standard Oil. Firms that generate vast capital have certain characteristics. They tend to operate across national boundaries. They diversify their investments, so that they do not commit themselves to any one commodity. They have deep ties to governments and the global political economy that includes international banking. And they are always looking for new places to get hold of resources and hire labor. There are certainly small capitalist firms, and a business like Wal-Mart began as a country store in an Arkansas town. Capitalism comes from the larger social order, but it then seeks to dominate it. That does not describe the owner of the sandwich shop.

On second thought, maybe we are all capitalists in certain sense. Whether we generate capital or not, command it or not, manage it or not, capital has brought almost all of our occupations into existence. Occupations shape identities, situating people within institutions that lend internal coherence to the social system, regardless of its contradictions. And that social system is tightly bound up with the United States, so much so that many patriotic Americans make little or any distinction between the freedoms detailed in the Bill of Rights and “free enterprise,” even though entrepreneurship has existed for as long as people bought and sold things and even though capitalism in the eighteenth century is nothing like what it is today. “The worst error of all,” Braudel reminds us, “is to suppose that capitalism is simply an ‘economic system’, whereas in fact it lives off the social order, standing almost on a footing with the state, whether as adversary or accomplice.”

So complete has capital become throughout the social order that it appears to have emerged from the natural order, and the behavior it instills seems to many people to be an expression of universal human motives and aspirations. As three historians observe, “One of the distinguishing features of a free-enterprise economy is that its coercion is veiled … Far from being natural, the cues for market participation are given through complicated social codes. Indeed, the illusion that compliance in the dominant economic system is voluntary is itself an amazing cultural artifact.”[iii]  It might be true that the gentry did the same thing in 1650 that they did in 1250. They extracted value from people and environments. But they did it differently than anyone had before, through a discipline imposed by rents and wages, through social codes and cues that appeared to be independent of people. They aren’t. Perhaps the most radical idea we can have about capital, the single most subversive thing we can think about it, is that it begins as nothing more than a relationship between people. Like the meanings of words, relationships change.

[i] “I should say that this is the circuit of capital. It is not a formula for capitalism, which is an entire social system that is based on the recreation or reproduction of capital. Once people began to produce capital they became committed to it, created institutions to further it, connected their identities to it, or could no longer what life was like before it. Capital found its way into so many facets of life and became the basis of giant amalgams of people and production, not to mention nation-states, that any substantial change now seems like it would amount to the end of the world.” – Marx, Capital, Volume 1, 247.

[ii] Fernand Braudel, Wheels of Commerce, tr. Sian Reynolds (New York, 1982), 232-234; Oxford English Dictionary; Smith, Wealth of Nations, 353-355.

[iii] Joyce Appleby, Lynn Hunt, and Margaret Jacob, Telling the Truth About History (New York, 1994), 120-1.

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Lectures in Honor of Chris Schmidt-Nowara (1966-2015) Pioneer of Transatlantic and Antislavery Hispanic Caribbean Studies

Please join the Fordham History Department as it celebrates the life and work of Chris Schmidt-Nowara with a series of lectures, panels, and discussions on the fascinating variety of topics to which he dedicated his career. The first event will be held Monday, October 5, at 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm, 2nd Floor – Costantino Room (Fordham Law School). In collaboration with the United Nations, the Burial Database Project of Enslaved Americans and LALSI present Truth: Women, Creativity and the Memory of Slavery, with distinguished women artists and scholars from the Americas. The panel will discuss the representation of  slavery by women artists of African descent throughout the Americas.  Participating artists and scholars include:Yolanda Arroyo Pizarro
Novelist, Poet & Short-Story Writer

Aimee Meredith Cox, Cultural Anthropologist
Associate Chair, Depart. of African & African Amer. Studies, Fordham University

Nicole Fleetwood, Associate Professor
American Studies, Rutgers University

Yuko Miki, Assistant Professor
Iberian Atlantic History

Iyunolu Osagie, Associate Professor
English, Penn State

Gabriela Salgado, African & Latin American Contemporary Art Curator
London, UK

Deborah Willis, Photographer
Chair, Depart. of Photography & Imaging, Tisch School of the Arts, NYU

Read on to find out about further events this semester…

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New Directions in Early Modern and Modern History: The 2015 Fordham Graduate Colloquium Conference, May 8 4PM

The History Department is pleased to announce the schedule for the 2015 Graduate Colloquium Conference “New Directions in Early Modern and Modern History”. The conference will take place on Friday May 8 at 4PM in Walsh Library 040.Presentations cover evenly almost the whole period from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries, with presenters addressing topics as diverse as royal succession and government in Tudor England, torture and public disorder in Colonial America, and mass consumption, labor justice, and education in the modern US. Read on for the conference schedule and paper abstracts…

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Winner of the Loomie Prize 2014!

Tobias Hrynick, winner of the 2014 Loomie Prize

Tobias Hrynick, winner of the 2014 Loomie Prize

At a gathering of the History Department on its Spring Open Day, we announced the winners of the Loomie Prize. Each year, the Loomie prize is awarded to the best seminar paper produced during the previous academic year.  All M.A. and Ph.D. students who have taken the proseminar/seminar sequence or a research tutorial are eligible.

 The judges unanimously selected Tobias Hrynick as the winner for 2014, awarding an honorable mention to Stephen Leccesse. Hrynick’s paper, “The Customs of Romney Marsh: Compromise and Common Interest in Wetland Administration,” was written under the supervision of Maryanne Kowaleski for the Medieval History proseminar “Medieval England.”  Leccese’s paper “Emerging From the Sub-Cellar: John D. Rockefeller, Standard Oil, and the Rise of Corporate Public Relations in Progressive America, 1902-1908,”  was written under the supervision of Christopher Dietrich. For more information about the Loomie prize papers, read on… Continue reading

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