The Right Home in the Wrong Location: Does it Matter?

We’ve always had those situations when we have to do the best trade-offs, especially when buying something that costs an arm and a leg. One of the best examples is purchasing a house. What should you generally consider first? Right, it’s the house itself and its location. You’ll probably be the luckiest homeowner on Earth[…]

Jacob Riis and “How the Other Half Lives”: Poverty in 19th-Century America

Riis as a writer, photographer, lecturer, advocate, and ally for reform to address the poverty many ignored. Biography Overview Jacob A. Riis (1849–1914) was born in Ribe, Denmark. He immigrated to America at age twenty with hopes of one day marrying his teenage love, Elisabeth Nielsen [Gjørtz]. Riis wandered through Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New[…]

Social Class in the American Colonies

Social class was prevalent and largely property-based in the colonies. The Colonial Elite Overview In New England and the mid-Atlantic colonies, the elite were wealthy farmers or urban merchants; in the South, they were wealthy planters. British Americans’ reliance on indentured servitude and slavery to meet the demand for colonial labor helped give rise to[…]

The Birth of the Modern American Debt Collector

In the 19th century, farm loans changed from a matter between associates into an impersonal, bureaucratic exchange. By Livia Gershon The consequences for borrowing money and failing to repay it are clear, certain, and often devastating. But historian Tamara Plakins Thornton writes that it wasn’t always this way. Thornton focuses on an early nineteenth-century Massachusetts lending[…]

Cleveland’s Gilded Age “Millionaire’s Row”: A Paragon of Immigrant Engagement

City founders expected an outpost of New England. What they created was a paragon of immigrant civic engagement. The Republicans are convening in Cleveland, and the Cleveland Cavaliers have won the NBA championship after a half-century long drought for Cleveland sports teams, putting intense focus on the city’s past and present. And so I, as[…]

How ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ Seized on an Urbanizing America’s Nostalgia for the Small Town

As mid-century Americans moved to cities, Cara’s film helped to idealize isolated white communities. It’s a Wonderful Life can be read through multiple prisms—as a Christmas movie, a family movie, a love story, an existential journey, and a celebration of the everyman. But Frank Capra’s movie invites audiences to consider it, first and foremost, as a[…]

Frank Capra’s Formula for Taming American Capitalism

It’s a Wonderful Life prescribed community and empathy as the remedy to a callous economic system. From the Gilded Age and until well into the Great Depression, Americans engaged in one of the most consequential debates in the country’s history: how best to address the economic inequities and societal problems stemming from industrialization, and relatedly,[…]

The Jungle and the Community: Workers and Reformers in Turn-of-the-Century Chicago

How does Upton Sinclair’s representation of this community in The Jungle compare to the accounts of sociologists and reformers? Introduction In November and December of 1904, the New York writer Upton Sinclair spent seven weeks in Chicago’s meatpacking district—the Union Stock Yard and the surrounding neighborhood, known as Packingtown or Back of the Yards. Sinclair[…]

Chicago Workers during the Long Gilded Age

What were working conditions like in Chicago during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries? What efforts did workers make to change these conditions? Introduction The United States experienced extraordinary social and economic change between the end of Reconstruction and the beginning of World War I. In 1870, only one-quarter of Americans lived in cities.[…]

Trade, Diplomacy, and Transformation in China in the 19th and 20th Centuries

Exploring how China’s economic and diplomatic ties to the outside world shaped its modern history. Introduction For centuries, China’s encounters with the foreign lands and peoples involved the commercial exchange of goods. The Chinese attitude towards trade viewed it as desirable, within a structured and regulated framework. Prior to the establishment of the People’s Republic[…]

The Black Death’s Economic Impact and Contribution to the Renaissance

The Black Death struck in 1348, 1362, 1368, 1381, and continued even into the 18th century. 1348 The Black Death arrived on European shores in 1348. By 1350, the year it retreated, it had felled a quarter to half of the region’s population. In 1362, 1368, and 1381, it struck again—as it would periodically well[…]

A Radical Legal Ideology Nurtured Our Era of Economic Inequality

Where does economic power come from? Does it exist independently of the law? It seems obvious, even undeniable, that the answer is no. Law creates, defines and enforces property rights. Law enforces private contracts. It charters corporations and shields investors from liability. Law declares illegal certain contracts of economic cooperation between separate individuals – which[…]

The North Carolina Trucker Who Brought the World to America in a Box

How Malcolm McLean’s shipping containers conquered the global economy by land and sea. On April 26, 1956, a crane lifted 58 aluminum truck bodies onto the deck of an aging tanker ship moored in Newark, New Jersey. Five days later, the Ideal-X sailed into Houston, Texas, where waiting trucks collected the containers for delivery to local factories[…]

The New Deal in Chicago and the Midwest

What did the New Deal look like in Chicago and the greater Illinois region? Who were its champions and opponents? By Ashley Johnson Introduction In November of 1933, Franklin Roosevelt won the American presidency during one of America and the world’s gravest economic depressions. As he gazed out at hundreds of thousands of unemployed workers[…]

The 19th Century Labor Movement That Brought Black and White Arkansans Together

In 1888, small farmers, sharecroppers, and industrial workers organized to fight inequality. Today, when Americans think about the tradition of political protest to protect democracy, they often recall the mid-20th century, when millions of Americans participated in the civil rights movement and protests against the Vietnam War. But the roots of American grassroots political activism[…]

George Pullman: The Sleeping Car King and a Labor Uprising

George Pullman’s unbending business acumen made him a mogul but also inspired the greatest labor uprising of the 19th century. George M. Pullman literally raised Chicago from the mud. He introduced luxury to the nation’s rail lines. He even created a model company town for his workers—a feat that prompted some to proclaim him the[…]

A 20th-Century Economic History of Iran

Examining Iran’s economic history pre- and post-revolution. Introduction Prior to 1979, Iran’s economic development was rapid. Traditionally an agricultural society, by the 1970s the country had undergone significant industrialization and economic modernization.[1][2] This pace of growth had slowed dramatically by 1978 as capital flight reached $30 to $40 billion 1980 US dollars just before the revolution.[3] After the Revolution[…]

China and Hong Kong in the Canton Trade System

After their victory in the first Opium War, the British acquired Hong Kong under the 1842 Treaty of Nanking. Hong Kong held 3,000 Chinese scattered in small fishing villages until the mid 19th century. The city itself is a small island in the mouth of the Pearl River, 76 miles southeast of Canton. Its waterfall[…]

The Narrow World of the Artists of China’s Early Modern Canton Trade System

The new vistas of China available after the development of the East India trade attracted many Chinese and foreign artists. John Webber (1750–1793) accompanied Captain Cook on his third voyage to the South Seas and visited Macau in 1779, publishing his book Views in the South Seas in 1780. Thomas Daniell (1749–1840) and his nephew[…]

Ancient and Medieval China’s Silk Road

The European explorer Marco Polo (1254-1324 CE) traveled on these routes and described them in depth in his famous work. Introduction The Silk Road was an ancient network of trade routes, formally established during the Han Dynasty of China, which linked the regions of the ancient world in commerce between 130 BCE-1453 CE. As the Silk Road was not[…]

Investiture: Medieval Nobility Cashing in on Church Appointments

It began as a power struggle between Pope Gregory VII and Emperor Henry IV in 1076. Introduction The Investiture Controversy or Investiture Contest was a conflict between church and state in medieval Europe over the ability to appoint local church officials through investiture.[1] By undercutting imperial power, the controversy led to nearly 50 years of civil war in Germany. According to historian Norman[…]

Carucage: Land Taxes in Medieval England

Introduced by Richard I in 1194, the taxable value of an estate was initially assessed from the Domesday Survey, but other methods were later employed. Introduction Carucage[a] was a medieval English land tax introduced by King Richard I in 1194, based on the size—variously calculated—of the estate owned by the taxpayer. It was a replacement[…]

How the Ancient Egyptian Economy Laid the Groundwork for Building the Pyramids

In the shadow of the pyramids of Giza lie the tombs of the courtiers and officials who built these vast structures. In the shadow of the pyramids of Giza, lie the tombs of the courtiers and officials of the kings buried in the far greater structures. These men and women were the ones responsible for[…]

Circular Economies and Repurposing in the Ancient World

Recycling on a large scale is a Bronze Age invention. The circular economy is typically seen as the progressive alternative to our wasteful linear economy, where raw materials are used to make the products that feed today’s rampant consumerist hunger, which are then thrown away. The idea of the circular economy only took off in the 1980s,[…]

The Rise of the Small Business Owner in Progressive Era Culture

Analyzing the role that Progressive Era writers played in restoring the image of the small business owner. Introduction Small business owners played a key role in the rise of postwar conservatism. New historians of capitalism have shown how business activism shaped the politics of the postwar era, funded the rise of movement conservatism, and endeavored[…]

‘Hidden Persuaders’: Advertising and Manipulation in the 1950s

Vance Packard’s ‘Hidden Persuaders’ was an exposé of the new techniques of mass manipulation developed by 1950s advertisers. Introduction In 2014, Facebook revealed details of an experiment they had carried out in collaboration with Cornell University. Researchers modified the type of content that appeared in some users’ newsfeeds. For one group, the Facebook algorithm was[…]

Trade in Medieval Europe

The full range of consumer goods of the period was set out to tempt the shopper and small retailer. By Mark CartwrightHistorian Introduction Trade and commerce in the medieval world developed to such an extent that even relatively small communities had access to weekly markets and, perhaps a day’s travel away, larger but less frequent[…]