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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism

boisi center for religion and american public life

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Edward E. Baptist    
Cornell University

Response by Martin Summers, Boston College

Date: Tuesday, October 4, 2016
Time: 5:30-7:00 pm
Location: Higgins Hall 310

This event is co-sponsored by the Institute for the Liberal Arts and the African and African Diaspora Studies Program.

Abstract: The expansion of slavery in the first eight decades after American independence drove the evolution and modernization of the United States. Until the Civil War, the most important American economic innovations were ways to make slavery ever more profitable. Through forced migration and torture, slave owners extracted continual increases in efficiency from enslaved African Americans. The United States seized control of the world market for cotton, the key raw material of the Industrial Revolution, and became a wealthy nation with global influence.

Ed Baptist Photo

Edward Baptist is a professor in the Department of History at Cornell University and house dean of the Carl Becker House. He has published The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (Basic Books, 2014) and Creating an Old South: Middle Florida’s Plantation Frontier Before the Civil War (UNC Press, 2002). With the late Stephanie Camp, he co-edited New Studies in the History of American Slavery (University of Georgia Press, 2006). Baptist is also leading a project called Freedom on the Move, a collaborative effort in digital history that is building a crowdsourced database of all fugitive slave advertisements, which recently won an NEH Digital Projects Start-Up Grant. At Cornell he teaches courses in US History and the History of Capitalism. Each spring semester he leads a group of Cornell undergraduates to the sugarcane farming community of Petersfield, Jamaica, where they carry out service-learning projects. 

Headshot of Martin Summers

Martin Summers is an associate professor of history and African Diaspora Studies at Boston College, where he regularly teaches courses on gender and sexuality in African American history, medicine and public health in the African diaspora, and the history of masculinity in the U.S. He is currently the director of the African and African Diaspora Studies Program. He has published scholarship on gender and sexuality within the African American community, including a monograph, Manliness and Its Discontents: The Black Middle Class and the Transformation of Masculinity, 1900-1930, which was awarded the American Historical Association-Pacific Coast Branch Book Award in 2005. Summers’ current book project, Madness in the City of Magnificent Intentions: A History of Race and Mental Illness in the Nation’s Capital, is a social and cultural history of medicine which focuses on African American patients at Saint Elizabeths Hospital, a federal mental institution in Washington, D.C., from its founding in 1855 to the 1980s.

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In 1838, Georgetown University sold 272 slaves to pay its debts. Now, the University is confronting its debt to the descendants of the people they sold. Author James Martin, S.J., interviewed the chair of Georgetown's working group on Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation to discuss the steps the university, and its Jesuit community, is making to atone for its history. Edward Baptist  (Cornell University) will speak Wednesday, October 4 to discuss the role of slavery in the making of American capitalism. Professor Martin Summers (Boston College) will respond.