Frost Lecture 2015

Professor Edward Baptist of Cornell University

  • Monday, February 2, 7:00 pm
  • Paulus Lecture Hall, Willamette University College of Law

"Capitalism and Slavery: Not An Accidental Connection"

The story of capitalism's origins is a story about our origins. In his controversial new book, Cornell historian Ed Baptist argues that slavery in the United States was much more deeply connected to the origins of American capitalism than we like to think. He will talk about how and why he came to research this connection, and its human consequences.

Ed Baptist grew up in Durham, North Carolina, and received his undergraduate degree from Georgetown University. He did his graduate work at the University of Pennsylvania. Since then, he has taught first at the University of Miami, and, since 2003, at Cornell University. He will be speaking about his new book, The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, published by Basic Books in September 2014 (reviewed in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/04/books/the-half-has-never-been-told-follows-the-money-of-slavery.html?_r=1).

Ten years in the making, this sweeping history of the United States from the Revolution to the Civil War puts enslaved African Americans at the center of the story. Using interviews with ex-slaves, personal narratives written by survivors who escaped slavery, the business papers and secret letters of enslavers, as well as the newspapers and more public documents of American communities, this book argues that one can not understand how the American past is today’s prologue without understanding how American slavery grew and changed, became modern, and shaped the American nation.

Baptist has also published Creating an Old South: Middle Florida’s Plantation Frontier Before the Civil War (UNC Press, 2002), and with the late Stephanie Camp, New Studies in the History of American Slavery, (University of Georgia Press, 2006). He and Louis Hyman have also published a co-edited book called American Capitalism: A Reader, which was published by Simon and Schuster as an e-book.

At Cornell, Baptist teaches about the history of slavery, the U.S. Civil War, American capitalism, and digital history, as well as a service-learning course that brings American students to work in the schools of a community in rural Jamaica.

Along with Louis Hyman, he has developed and taught The History of American Capitalism, a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) for CornellX. He conceived of this as being more of a multi-form, dynamic textbook for use by other teachers in their own classrooms than a stand-alone course. Baptist is also leading a project called Freedom on the Move, [ freedomonthemove.org ] a collaborative effort in digital history that is building a crowdsourced database of all fugitive slave ads.