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History of Capitalism


Anytime a major newspaper discusses historiographical trends, it’s worth noting. That it’s about the rise of the history of capitalism as a field is more notable. In my opinion, this field has enormous potential to contextualize capitalism and push back against the religious belief in capitalism that infects our nation today. Labor history once served that purpose, but it stopped being effective a long time ago. The increasing irrelevance of labor unions to society means that students often don’t have much sense of what they even are, not to mention whey they are important. There’s too much work that needs to be done up front in a course. In the historical literature, the oppositional labor history has been told. The history of capitalism on the other hand is showing how capitalism has contributed immensely to the problems that we as a society find abhorrent, like racial discrimination. And it is showing how unregulated capitalism has created financial crises in the past. Essentially, it is updating a critique of capitalism to a new generation. As it’s taught and written by a new generation of historians, it tends to not be as openly hostile to capitalism as I’d like; after all, these are people who went to college in a generation where even the left was by and large pro-capitalism in theory (as were most of the people involved in Occupy stuff). That said, these historians are doing a tremendous service to the field and to the general public by exploring these questions.

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