Sunday’s New York Times has a story on the growing numbers of courses and research projects on the history of capitalism. The article highlights the creativity of a number of historians who have been looking at financiers, industrialists, and other important economic decision makers, with tools that include, but go beyond, economics.
These scholars use the methods of social and cultural history to understand the worlds in which their subjects operated, and the ways in which they changed the everyday lives of millions. While the story probably overstates prior neglect of these issues, it does show how a cohort of mostly young historians is illuminating the historical roots of many aspects of our world that are now taken for granted. It makes clear that these efforts have struck a nerve with students, scholars, and general readers, showing once again how coming to terms with an unsettled present requires that we learn new things about the past.