Current Project

Current Project:
Crisis Capital: Industrial Massachusetts and the Making of Global Capitalism, 1813-Present

-Project Abstract-

For a short summation, please read my recent Enterprise & Society article version of my ongoing project.

My current project, “Crisis Capital,” explores the industrial development of Massachusetts through an analysis of how the global flows and conflicts between mobile capital, migrant labor, and the state apparatus made and un-made the Massachusetts economy over and over again. Indeed, by exploring Massachusetts as but a single geographic node in the sea of swirling capital, labor, and industry, my project details how the changing fortunes of one state’s economy were inextricably bound to the larger dynamics of global capitalism, shaped by everything from textile industrialization in North Carolina to agricultural crisis on the Azorean islands to the explosion of export garment production in South Korea. As the title suggests, it is a project about how this constantly shifting geography of capitalist development has provoked chronic economic instability: de-industrialization and re-industrialization, crisis and prosperity. Yet it is equally a project about how crisis itself--by forcibly intervening in and shifting these global flows of capital and labor--has, somewhat paradoxically, fueled capitalist expansion and consolidation: how “crisis capital” was instrumental to making Massachusetts one of the great industrial centers of the United States.

Through an analysis of how two cities on the South Coast of Massachusetts--New Bedford and Fall River--weathered nearly a century of tempestuous global economic transformation and turmoil, I show that these cities did not simply “industrialize” in the nineteenth century only to “de-industrialize” in the twentieth, but instead navigated a constant cycle of economic creation and devastation. In the process, my work traces the collapse of the whaling industry and the rise of textile production in the 1870s, the transition from making cloth to stitching clothes in the 1930s, and finally, the erosion of the garment economy and the emergence of a “high-tech” economy in the 1970s. As one of the earliest sites in the globe to undergo Industrial Revolution, my work also sheds light on what lessons the economic plight of Massachusetts might offer for our economic future and our own prospects for prosperity, as well as how the cycle of crisis capital accumulation continues to define modern economies all over the globe.

As both a global and local history, research for this project spans archives all over the United States as well as the Azores, Portugal, Canada, England, and the Netherlands. My research and writing have been generously funded by the Thomas Cochran Dissertation Fellowship in Economic and Business History, the Weatherhead Center For International Affairs, the Harvard Canada Program, the Charles Warren Center for American Studies, and the Department of History at Harvard University.