Caitlin Rosenthal. Labor as Capital: Slavery, Calculation and American Capitalism

Blumer Room - 402 Barrows Hall

Labor as Capital: Slavery, Calculation and American Capitalism

In the simplifying language of economics there are three inputs of production: land, labor, and capital. Slaves confounded the last of these categories, at once labor and capital, and antebellum American planters used accounting to balance the tradeoffs between them. This talk will examine three settings where planters sought to value, price, and categorize the enslaved: inventories, price lists, and the rating of men as fractions of a “hand.” All of these sites of valuation reflect both the commodification of bondspeople and its limits, raising questions about the relationship between slavery and American capitalism.

Caitlin Rosenthal is assistant professor of history at UC Berkeley. She studies 18th and 19th century US history, and her work seeks to blend methods and insights from business history, economic history, and labor history. Her current book project investigates the complex relationship between slavery and capitalism in American history. See