Stoll writes: “At a time when some predict that the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic could leave many unemployed for months or years, and when the working-class already endures the worst of everything, in a rolling crisis of despair, Modern Times doesn’t look like an excavated relic but a message from the dawn of the American Century to its dusk. The story of the Worker, played by Chaplin, and his homeless partner, the Gamin, played by Paulette Goddard, depicts alienation and disillusionment with capitalism, law enforcement, and the world of industrial work that had failed the working class.”
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 Liberumand the ensuing legal debate on the law of the seas.
The History Department would like to extend its sincerest thanks to Professor Timothy Brook and the O’Connell Initiative for taking the time to present his insightful and illuminating research.
Steven Stoll, Professor of History here at Fordham University specializing in environmental history and the history of capitalism and agrarian societies, recently published “No Man’s Land” in the Orion Magazine.
Steven Stoll, Professor of History at Fordham University
The article, which you can read here, explores how issues relating to private property, land rights, local interests, and agriculture can often intersect. Stoll begins the article relating the case of the South Central Farm in Los Angeles. The plot of land was seized by the city of Los Angeles in 1986, however the community resisted the plan to build an incinerator on the site. The plan folded and the land then came under the control of the Harbor Department. In 1994 the Harbor Department invited the local food bank to use the land to construct a community garden. “But in 2001, one of the prior owners filed a lawsuit against the city. The property had never been used to build the incinerator, and so, he argued, Los Angeles had no reason to seize it. The city settled the case in 2003 by selling the fourteen acres back to the prior owner.” The gardeners, who were then accused of squatting, refused to leave the land. In 2003 police arrested forty people, the farm was bulldozed, and the land remains vacant. Stoll writes, “In the case of the South Central Farm, ownership for profit triumphed over use for subsistence, which, of course, is the way of the world.”
Steven Stoll has also published Larding the Lean Earth: Soil and Society in Nineteenth-Century America (2002) and The Great Delusion (2008). He is currently working on a monograph about losing land and livelihood in Appalachia.