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Monday, February 10, 2020 @ 12:45 pm - 2:00 pm

The Center for the Study of Law and Society 
is pleased to announce the next speaker in the Spring 2020 CSLS Speaker Series




Professor of History at University of California, Berkeley


Speaking on her research

“Capitalism Where Labor was Capital:
Slavery, Power and Price in Antebellum America”


The new historians of capitalism have been reluctant to define “capitalism,” warning that a narrow definition could artificially constrain our analysis of the system on the ground. But, as the field matures, thinking more about what capitalism is can help both to clarify cross-disciplinary debates and also to offer a deeper theoretical understanding of the relationship between slavery and capitalism. This paper unfolds in two parts. First, I explore the problem of defining of capitalism, offering one possibility based on the commoditization of labor as it results from the distribution of capital. Such a definition attempts to reconcile definitions of capitalism that focus on wage labor with the circumstances of slavery. The second half of the article considers late antebellum American slavery through the lens of this proposed definition, asking to what extent enslaved people and their labor were “commoditized.” To do this, I explore four genres of valuation where slaveholders graded and priced enslaved people: inventories, the system of fractional hands, price circulars, and finally, in negotiations over manumission. Planters calculations’ reflect their efforts to understand the infinite variety of enslaved lives as abstract, measurable units of human capital. They enjoyed the power to shift between different modes of valuation to answer different questions, and when it served their interests they abandon the language of commoditization altogether.


The related paper is available on our website and in hard copy at the Center.


Please join us on Monday, February 10 from 12:45-2:00p in the Philip Selznick Seminar Room, 2240 Piedmont Ave. 
Coffee and water are provided. We invite you to bring your own “bag lunch.”
We are looking forward to seeing you soon!


Catherine Albiston, Faculty Director

Pamela Erickson, Executive Director


Monday, February 10, 2020
12:45 pm - 2:00 pm
Event Category:


Center for the Study of Law and Society


Philip Selznick Seminar Room
2240 Piedmont Ave
Berkeley, CA 94720-2150 United States
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Events are wheelchair accessible. For disability-related accommodations, contact the organizer of the event. Advance notice is kindly requested.

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