Private Profits and Public Affairs

Join us for an OI Author Conversation with Hannah Farber and Michael Zakim

The rise of capitalism and the expansion of the market economy transformed the early U.S. republic, reshaping relations within the labor force as well as the relationship between state and society. As contingent as it was unsettling, that transformation is often associated with rise of textile factories in the North and the spread of cotton fields across the South. But it also played out in less obvious spaces. Behind closed doors, in what we would now call whitecollar offices, men pushed paper, kept accounts, insured merchants against risk, and managed capital. In the process, they quietly helped redefine state power and civil society.

Please join Hannah Farber and Michael Zakim for a discussion of “Private Profits and Public Affairs.” Hannah Farber’s forthcoming Underwriters of the United States: How Insurance Shaped the American Founding explores connections between marine insurance and state formation. Michael Zakim has written widely about the cultural and intellectual underpinnings of market society. Most recently the author of Accounting for Capitalism: The World the Clerk Made (2018), he is currently writing a global history of paper.

Hannah Farber specializes in the political economy of colonial North America, the early American republic, and the Atlantic World. Her first book, Underwriters of the United States (Omohundro Institute with partner the University of North Carolina Press, 2021) explains how the transnational system of marine insurance, by governing the behavior of American merchants, influenced the establishment and early development of the American republic.

Michael Zakim teaches at Tel Aviv University. He is the author of several books about the economic history of early America, most recently Accounting for Capitalism. The World the Clerk Made, published by the University of Chicago Press in 2018. (The UCP is offering a 25% discount on all titles by Michael Zakim. Please refer to this flyer for more information.)


Our thanks to the John Carter Brown Library for the use of the “Shipwreck” image.

“Transforming Waste into Wealth: The Political Economy of Alcohol in the Leeward Islands, 1670-1737”

OI Colloquium with Lila O’Leary Chambers

Alcohol played a crucial role in supporting the Leeward Islands’ transition from a “society with slaves” to an entrenched “slave society” across the early eighteenth century. Rather than acting solely as a signifier of planter excess, this chapter reveals that white settlers and enslaved and free African and African-descended peoples incorporated it in complex structures of economy and political culture. Colonial officials relied on alcohol to fund fortifications, pay salaries, and provide the colonies’ only ready money. Within the plantation, enslaved women and men labored to produce the rum that kept their enslavers’ finances and labor forces afloat. They nonetheless refused to be fully subsumed within the economic logics of their enslavers. Enslaved people, forced to produce rum, used alcohol to momentarily reject their commodified status, engaging in an illicit economy of alcohol sales, as well as shared consumption in order to form bonds of sociality and political affiliation essential to (re)forming community under slavery.

Lila O’Leary Chambers is currently a research fellow with the AHRC-funded project the Legacies of the British Slave Trade at University College London. Previously, she was a postdoctoral associate with the Atlantic Slavery and its Afterlives Program at New York University. Dr. Chambers specializes in the history of slavery, consumption, and empire in the early modern Atlantic World. Her book manuscript, Liquid Capital: Alcohol and the Rise of Slavery in the British Atlantic moves through Ireland, West Africa, the slaving ship, the Caribbean, and the Native Southeast to argue for the diplomatic, social, and economic importance of alcohol to the growth of a British empire premised in Indigenous dispossession and chattel slavery. Her work has been generously supported by the McNeil Center of Early American Studies, the Huntington Library, and the Folger Library, among others.


The OI’s Colloquium Series is an ongoing seminar for scholars to present their work in progress for graduate students and colleagues.  Advanced registration is required. All participants read the pre-circulated  paper and prepare to engage in generous and generative feedback.

When we meet in person we are limited by the size of the OI’s conference room; online we limit registration to 40 (a typical size for the colloquium). No recordings are made of the discussions and no tweeting or posting on other social media platforms during the event is permitted in order to encourage this intellectual community of trusted exchange.


Contact Beverly Smith for your copy.