Vanderbilt History Seminar 2011-2012
The 2011-2012 VHS will explore the historical relations of rich and poor in a wide range of cultural, temporal and geographic contexts. It will survey the ways that institutions of state, market and civil society produce, sustain and regulate material inequalities and the forces that mitigate and challenge these inequalities. It will inquire into the ways that different societies and cultures explain scarcity and prosperity to themselves, define the boundaries between legitimate and illegitimate distributions of wealth and debate the relative role of public and private institutions in alleviating perceived extremes. It will discuss the religious mediations of poverty and plenty, the ways that religions both organize arrangements of material power and deprivation and lend them theological and moral sanction. It will examine the gendered dimensions of material inequality and the material dimensions of patriarchy. It will explore the ways that discrepancies of wealth have intersected with practices, institutions and ideologies of essentialized difference. It will investigate settings in which historical actors have resolved their societies’ discrepancies of wealth into narratives and self-understandings of “class” and explore the social movements that have arisen as a result. It aspires to a set of discussions that will unfold at a variety of spatial and geographic scales, from the local and regional to the imperial and global, and that will bring together both historians from an array of methodologies and subfields and scholars in other disciplines concerned with these themes.
This theme will allow VHS to consider issues that were once prominent in our discipline but, since the cultural turn, have largely faded from view. The time seems right for such a reconsideration, not only because economic issues, since 2008, have pressed so heavily on our lives and consciousnesses, but also because signs abound that large numbers of scholars have already turned their attention to such topics as capitalism and inequality, the social and cultural meaning of money, the history of political economic thought, imperial and global manifestations of wealth and poverty, the history of risk among the rich (finance and speculation) and poor (gambling, mutual aid societies), and the intersection of race and gender with class. The best of this work doesn’t renounce cultural history but seeks to rethink materialist history in light of the contributions that cultural historians have made. We have an opportunity, then, to explore a field that is both reviving and reinventing itself; VHS can perhaps play a role in defining the field’s contours, themes, and perspectives.
*Because they are unpublished, VHS papers on Rich and Poor are distributed in hardcopy form only at Vanderbilt. Please contact the authors for more information on papers. You may link to their faculty page or individual seminar posters below.
Vanderbilt History Seminar 2011–2012 participants: