CFP: Capitalism by Gaslight

15 11 2011

Capitalism by Gaslight: The Shadow Economies of Nineteenth-Century America

Date: June 7-8, 2012

Location: Library Company of Philadelphia

“Capitalism by Gaslight: The Shadow Economies of Nineteenth-Century
America,” an exhibition currently installed at the Library Company of
Philadelphia, showcases the many ways in which Americans earned a living
through economic transactions made beyond the spheres of “legitimate”
commerce. Entrepreneurs of this sort included everyone from prostitutes
and card sharps to confidence men, mock auctioneers, pickpockets, fences
of stolen goods, and many others.

Although these shadow economies may have unfolded “off the books,” they
were anything but marginal. Instead, they were crucially important parts
of the mainstream economy, bound up in the development of commercial and
industrial capitalism in nineteenth-century America. The shadow economy’s
successful entrepreneurs-women, people of color, and children among
them-had to be even more creative, flexible, and adaptive than
“respectable” counterparts. During this critical period, the rules of
“legitimate” economic engagement were still being established. What
separated legal from illegal, moral from immoral, acceptable from
disdained activities were far from settled issues. The practices,
networks, and goods that constituted shadow economies often paralleled and
in some instances overlapped with those found in wholesale and retail
businesses, calling into question the morality and legitimacy of legal
economic transactions.

To highlight not only the innovative research being done by historians of
capitalism and its culture but also the rich collections of the Library
Company that support study of these topics, the conveners seek paper
proposals for a conference on Thursday, June 7 – Friday, June 8, 2012,
that explore how shadow economies operated in the nineteenth-century
United States and examine the meanings Americans gave to them.

Please send a 2-3 page abstract and c.v. both to Wendy Woloson at
wewo99@gmail.com and Brian Luskey at brian.luskey@mail.wvu.edu no later
than January 15, 2012, to ensure consideration.

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