Has social history had its day? The (American) Nation has just published a long essay by Timothy Shenk on the new historians of -- and the new history of -- capitalism. It is too long (though I'm impressed that any commercial magazine would publish an essay in historiography this long!), and roams too widely, but there is something going on here worth noting.
Mostly young, and mostly specializing in the history of the United States, historians of capitalism are one part of a broader revival in political economy. Yet the success enjoyed by this segment of a larger groundswell remains noteworthy—and surprising. Despite the seeming predictability of the subject’s popularity at a time when economic issues have moved to the forefront of public debate, turning capitalism into the central category of historical analysis requires intellectual sacrifices, pushing some topics into the spotlight and relegating others to the shadows. This has not escaped the capitalism cohort’s peers, many of whom fear that the trend would undo advances made by a generation of cultural historians, while leading to even more scholarship of and by white men.