Slavery, Inequality, and Economic Creativity in the Nineteenth-Century United States

Monday, May 11, 2015
Girvetz 2320
John Majewski

John Majewski, the acting Dean of Humanities and Fine Arts, is a member of the UCSB History faculty and the recipient of a CNS Seed Grant. He teaches and writes about 19th-century U.S. history, with an emphasis on political economy. His work often analyzes a combination of statistical data and qualitative evidence to understand how people thought about wide-range of economic issues. Much of this work focuses on the slavery and the South, but he has done papers and chapters on the North as well, especially in regards to the rise of the corporation. One of his projects is looking at how differing attitudes towards education and economic creativity contributed to the coming of the Civil War.

This book-length project explores how economic creativity became central to the debates over slavery. Beginning in the early nineteenth century, invention and innovation became an increasingly important part of the northern economy.  Toward that end, northerners supported a number of government policies and institutions to encourage creativity: widespread public education, an open and enforceable patent system, and a network civic institutions that encouraged the diffusion of information. Southerners, on the other hand, supported top-down models of economic modernization that opposed policies such as the provision of public education. The resulting sectional divide over creativity led to bitter political conflict: northerners such as Abraham Lincoln and Horace Greeley believed that slavery threatened the creative core of their economy, while southerners sought to extend slavery at all costs. Well after the Civil War, the South continued to lag far behind in terms of education, invention, and innovation, suggesting their legacy of slavery, racism, and inequality was a long-standing deterrent to economic creativity.