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Sven Beckert

GENED 1159

What is capitalism and how has it unfolded in American history?

How did capitalism emerge, expand and transform daily life in North America over the past 500 years? In this course, students will gain an in-depth understanding of how North America turned from a minor outpost of the Atlantic economy into the powerhouse of the world economy, how Americans built a capitalist economy and how that capitalism, in turn, changed every aspect of their lives.  In the process, they will come to understand how contemporary capitalism is the result of centuries of human engagement, struggle, and aspirations. Topics range from the structure of Native-American economies to the economic consequences of the Civil War; from the impact of capitalism on gender relations to the changing structures of American businesses; and from the position of the United States in the world economy to the role of the government in channeling economic development. Boston merchants and Georgia sharecroppers, enslaved cotton growers and reforming statesmen, workers at the Ford assembly line and Silicon Valley entrepreneurs will all appear in the story. The course will put particular emphasis on the global context of American economic development and situate it deeply in political and social changes. Ultimately, students will gain an understanding of how the contemporary capitalism that so powerfully shapes all of our lives has emerged over the course of several centuries, and how the tools to understand the history of American capitalism can be applied to understanding our contemporary situation. Assignments in particular will encourage students to think about contemporary problems from historical perspectives.