Economic and Business History Society

The Economic and Business History Society met for its annual conference in Detroit, June 5th through 8th, 2019.  As always, this was a fun conference.  There were several people named Erik / Eric in attendance.  At one session there was a discussion on what the group name for this gathering would be.  It was decided that a group of Eriks with a K would be a raid of Eriks.  Erics with a C are a castle of Erics.  Now, honestly, what other conference does this sort of thing?

These are some of the panel sessions I attended:

Trade and Manufacturing in Colonial America

Sophie Jones started off the session with a talk on “An Absence of Manufacturing:  The Curious Case of Colonial New York.”  New York City imported a lot of its manufactured goods from the UK instead of developing manufacturing in the city.  Later local manufacturing emphasized ties to the UK, and UK social norms set standards for dress and behavior.  In lieu of manufacturing the city developed leisure activities, such a shopkeeping and gardening.

This set up the next talk, “Locally Global:  Capital Investment and Merchants in Colonial Boston, New York, and Philadelphia,” by Jeremy Land, who also helped organize the conference.  One of his points is that local investment provides capital investment.  This led to rising purchasing power of British America.  Merchants were also key sources of funding for public projects like roads and wharves.

For a change of pace Eric Oakley talked about “These Beautiful Isles:  Small Islands as Commercial Outposts in the Age of Sail.”  He focused on small islands, roughly the size of Hawaii or smaller.  Some were navigational aids or seamarks, others were logistical points, providing fresh provisions, and some were “entrepots,” places of maintenance and other ways of enhancing the trade.

Appearances Matter:  Popular Culture and Identity Economics

The first talk of this session, “Trrrappings of a Revolution:  The Commercial Co-option of the Riot Grrl Punk Aesthetic,” by Anna Stoutenburg, focused on the riotgrrrl movement that started in the late 1980’s and spread through zines.  As it got more press mainstream culture adopted some of the riot grrl aesthetic.

Mikko Juhani and Anna Sivula presented information on a collection of interviews with 121 shipbuilders in Rauma.

Deryuan Yang spoke about the Ghost Month in his presentation “The Impact of the Ghost Month:  Evidence from Marriage and Birth Data.”  There is some belief that the 7th lunar month is unlucky.  There are fewer weddings that month.

New Methodologies in Colonial Atlantic History

I missed one of the papers in this session.

Christine Cook, with “Your Little Madam Snip,” focused on women in the Askin family and their impact on the family business.  Male tailors made patterns and cut fabric pieces, female seamstresses sewed the pieces together.  Buttons were removed to wash garments and then sewn back on.

In “What’s in a Name: Wealth and Slave Names in York County, Virginia Probate Records,” Wendy Lucas’s research was read by moderator Fred Gates.  Lucas reviewed probate records to see which mentioned slaves by name.  It was beneficial to list the names of slaves with specific skills (blacksmithing, etc) and was also a function of estate wealth.

Sports and Tourism

Diana Ahmad talked about “Hawaiian Culture:  Little More Than a Crop to be Harvested.”  The popularity of “Moby Dick” led to an increase in Hawaiian tourism and cargo ships had more room for tourists.  There was a dramatic increase in tourism in the early 1900’s.

Michael Haupert in “There’s a Girl on the Field, but Who’s in the Stands?” focused on the women’s baseball league in the 1940’s and 1950’s.  He talked about the popularity of baseball, as wholesome entertainment, and that people went to women’s baseball games for the same reason they went to men’s baseball games.

New Research Methodology in Economic History

The first of two papers on aviation history, Peter Meyer presented on “The Great Aviation Patent Spike of 1910.”  He noted that the spike in patents came after public demonstrations of aircraft, and gave examples of varying terms used to describe different types of air vehicles.  He also pointed out that there was an increase in bibliographies on aeronautics to provide information.

Erik Benson spoke on “Curbing the Enthusiasm:  Recent Aviation History from an Economic Perspective.”  I was a little too nervous to listen as well as I should have to this talk.

I spoke last, talking about the pitfalls of searching online newspapers.  Some of my points were taking into account spelling variations, abbreviations, the change of word usage over time, and how the Tasini vs New York Times Supreme Court case affected information retrieval.

Global effort:  Case Studies in Labor and Human Capital

This research focused on the labor force in Russian factories.  Amanda Gregg presented “Modernization in Progress:  Part-Year Operation, Capital Accumulation, and the Labor Force Composition in Late Imperial Russia.”  She looked at 1894 industrial data.  Factories that operated part of the year were more rural and in more agricultural areas, especially wheat.  Factories that operated all year were more likely to survive.

Olli Turunen spoke on “Creating a Multilingual Corpus of Nineteenth Century Economics to Research Conceptual Development.”   He would like to create a database of nineteenth century economic literature in French, German, and English, in a consistent accessible format.

Robert Kaminski’s talk was entitled “Harvesting Horizontal Integration:  Labor Relations, Corporate Strategy and the Great Merger Movement, 1885-1902.”  He examined strikes at McCormick in 1885 and how the company responded.  There was a lockout and another strike in 1886.

As usual the conference offered a group field trip one afternoon.  This year we went to the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village.  The Village was comprised of historic buildings that were moved or recreated to this site.  I went to the Wright Brothers bicycle shop, the childhood home of George Washington Carver, and William Holmes McGuffey (of McGuffey Reader fame).  The village is also a working farm with horses, sheep, and at least one resident cat.  The Ford Museum had several interesting exhibits, including one on Star Trek.

The keynote speaker at the annual dinner was John Naglick, Chief Deputy CFO / Finance Director for the city of Detroit.  He talked about the process the city went through to get back on track financially.  It was illuminating and interesting, and at times alarming.  It is the sort of presentation people are unlikely to hear anywhere else.


Next year EBHS will meet in Atlanta.

About juliemstill

Julie Still is working on a dissertation in American Studies at Penn State Harrisburg. She has a B.A. in History and an M.A. in Library Science from the University of Missouri, and an M.A. in History from the University of Richmond.  Librarian by trade, writer by choice, once (and future?) Girl Scout leader and community participant, she reads history (all kinds), science fiction / fantasy (ranges from Scalzi to McKillip), mysteries (varied), and more.
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