Harvard’s Sven Beckert Presents New View of History of Cotton

Historians in the News
tags: Harvard, Sven Beckert

On Thursday, Feb. 12, the University hosted Sven Beckert, Laird Bell Professor of American History at Harvard University, who delivered a presentation on his New York Times bestseller “Empire of Cotton: A Global History.” Co-sponsored by Academic Affairs, the Center for Global Studies, and the History Department, Beckert’s speech summarized the main points of his work and followed up with a question-and-answer session.

Beckert began by explaining the necessity of his type of work. He stressed how integral capitalism is to a person’s life, despite the scrutiny it came under in the wake of the 2008 global recession.

“I see a great contemporary urgency to think about capitalism, because capitalism basically structures all of our lives today,” Beckert said. “In the wake of the global economic crisis of 2008, questions of the nature, past, and viability of capitalism suddenly appeared on evening talk shows and newspapers throughout the world.”

He also asserted that capitalism can be better understood when studied through a historical lens and a global perspective.

“I think that historians can contribute to the discussion on capitalism in very distinct ways that will help us get a new perspective,” Beckert said. “To truly understand the history of capitalism and the history of cotton, these diverse developments taking place in many different parts of the world need to be connected to one another. And here comes in the global approach. We need to follow cotton from the farm, the plantation, to the merchant house to the factories to the final consumers, in places ranging from Egypt to Argentina to Brazil, to England, to Japan, and from the United States to China.”...

Read entire article at The Wesleyan Argus

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