How the “bosses’-eye view” of History is Capturing National Headlines

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.

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  1. Ken Zimmerman

    History is as they always being rewritten. So it is with the writing of history. We’ve witnessed of late the attempts to change the shape of our societies through legislation, TV-internet programs, public speaking, etc. that alter the routines about what is noticed, considered normal and heroic, and what ought to serve as an example for all citizens, particularly the younger ones. For some time we’ve been moving to replace citizen-warrior veterans, judges, progressive era reformers, FDR, the conservative American Banker, the Druckerian businessman, and the noble American farmer with profession soldiers (and black ops is even better), legal sharp shooters such as Johnnie Cochran, wheeler dealers such as Zuckerberg and Cuban, libertarians such as Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman, the investment banker/speculator, and corporate big wigs (the bigger the corporation the better). This is not a question of right and wrong but of who counts as the exemplars for the nation and its citizens. I expect historians to study and describe such changes, whether they fail or succeed. And it seems that historians who can or have broken themselves away from the ways under challenge, or those who were never attached to these ways would be the better candidates to take on such work. It will be interesting to see how well they do the job.

  2. Mary Schaeffer Conroy

    In light of this news, it would have been nice had AHR reviewed my new book, THE COSMETICS BARON YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF: E. VIRGIL NEAL AND TOKALON—based on archival research in Bethesda, Nice and RGAE (Moscow.) Neal was a quintessential entrepreneur. In addition to Tokalon—which still exists—he was involved in hypnotism, wrote banking and accounting texts, and sold proprietary medicines—including to the Soviet pharmaceutical trust.