We live in an age where big businesses track our shopping habits and in some cases our work habits. But is the age of data new? When did the “age of the spreadsheet” and quantification of habits develop?
Caitlin Rosenthal, an Assistant Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley and the author of Accounting for Slavery: Masters and Management, leads us on an investigation into the origins of how American businesses came to collect and use data to manage their workers and their pursuit of profits.
About the Show
Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.
It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.
Each episode features a conversation with a historian who helps us shed light on important people and events in early American history.
Ben Franklin’s World is a production of the Omohundro Institute.
Caitlin Rosenthal, an Assistant Professor at the University of California and author of Accounting for Slavery: Masters and Management, leads us on an investigation into the origins of how American businesses came to collect and use data to manage their workers and their pursuit of profits.
During our investigation, Caitlin reveals why we need to view slaveholder account books as business records; How slaveholder account books became standardized in the late 18th and early 19th centuries; And how the standardization of slaveholder account books gave rise to spreadsheets, data, and the use of scientific management, which imposed a brutal system of surveillance over enslaved people.
What You’ll Discover
- How working in business has influenced Caitlin’s historical work
- Big businesses in early America
- The relationships between the history of slavery & the history of capitalism
- Using and viewing slaveholder account books as business records
- Physicality of account books
- Pre-printed plantation management forms
- History of the standardization of account books
- Standardizing accounting in the early American south
- What standardizing accounting on plantations meant for enslaved workers
- What cotton and sugar plantations can tell us about early American business practices
- The business of early American plantation management
- The hierarchy of employees on sugar and cotton plantations
- Plantation management training
- Spreadsheets, data, and slavery
- The rise of scientific management
- Where we can see scientific management in use on early American plantations
- Scientific management in early American factories
- Assigning and tracking value to enslaved workers
- Viewing early American history and slavery through a business lens
Links to People, Places, and Publications
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- Episode 137: Erica Dunbar, The Washingtons’ Runaway Slave, Ona Judge
- Episode 140: Tamara Thornton, Nathaniel Bowditch: 19th-Century Man of Business
- Episode 173: Marisa Fuentes, Colonial Port Cities & Slavery
- Episode 176: Daina Ramey Berry, The Value of the Enslaved from Womb to Grave
- Episode 253: Susan Clair Imbarrato, Life & Revolution in Boston & Grenada
Time Warp Question
In your opinion, what might have happened if historians in the past had included studies of slavery and plantation management in their early histories of American business? How do you think the history of slavery and the history business look different today?
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