Faculty Contributions to Public Seminar

Public Seminar, an online exchange of critical perspectives on contemporary social issues, began at the New School for Social Research and now has contributions and readers from around the world. Several NSSR faculty have shared thoughts on pressing matters, have debated healthily with their peers, and have used Public Seminar as a tool for pedagogical experimentation.

Here are just some of many contributions made by our faculty in the last year.


Julia Ott: Slaves: The Capital That Made Capitalism

Excerpt: “Racialized chattel slaves were the capital that made capitalism. While most theories of capitalism set slavery apart, as something utterly distinct, because under slavery, workers do not labor for a wage, new historical research reveals that for centuries, a single economic system encompassed both the plantation and the factory.

Family_of_African_American_slaves_on_Smiths_Plantation_Beaufort_South_Carolina-crop-473x375At the dawn of the industrial age commentators like Rev. Thomas Malthus could not envision that capital — an asset that is used but not consumed in the production of goods and services — could compound and diversify its forms, increasing productivity and engendering economic growth. Yet, ironically, when Malthus penned his Essay on the Principle of Population in 1798, the economies of Western Europe already had crawled their way out of the so-called “Malthusian trap.” The New World yielded vast quantities of “drug foods” like tobacco, tea, coffee, chocolate, and sugar for world markets. Europeans worked a little bit harder to satiate their hunger for these “drug foods.” The luxury-commodities of the seventeenth century became integrated into the new middle-class rituals like tea-drinking in the eighteenth century. By the nineteenth century, these commodities became a caloric and stimulative necessity for the denizens of the dark satanic mills. The New World yielded food for proletarians and fiber for factories at reasonable (even falling) prices. The “industrious revolution” that began in the sixteenth century set the stage for the Industrial Revolution of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

But the “demand-side” tells only part of the story. A new form of capital, racialized chattel slaves, proved essential for the industrious revolution — and for the industrial one that followed.”

Read the full piece at Public Seminar.

Bio| Julia Ott is Associate Professor of Historical Studies and Co-director of the Robert L. Heilbroner Center for Capitalism Studies. She received her Ph.D. from Yale University. Ott was a Visiting Scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation in 2009-2010. Ott specializes in economic history and political history. She is the author of When Wall Street Met Main Street: The Quest for an Investors’ Democracy (Harvard University Press, 2011).

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