THE NEW HISTORY OF CAPITALISM
The study of economic history emerged as an important area of inquiry after the Great Depression, when scholars began to examine the market system and the ways in which it emerged as a dominant economic system in Western society. Economic history remained primarily within economic departments until the early 2000s, when historians began to reconsider the nature of capitalism, a new field that examines the political nature of the markets system. “Its effort is to find new ways of exploring how institutions, political movements, and legal formations like debt, contract, and property come into being and inflect material and ideological life,” as historians Sven Beckert and Christine Desan write in their 2018 book, American Capitalism: New Histories.
Historians of the new history of capitalism have produced a wide range of scholarship, such as Walter Johnson’s 2013 book River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom and Edward Baptist’s 2014 book The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism that examine the role of slavery and the enduring legacy of racism in American capitalism. Still, historians face significant barriers in their effort to examine the American economy and the ways in which it has been influenced and legitimized by neoclassical economics, a highly mathematical field that has come to be associated with science.