What Counts?: Political Economy, or Ways to Make Early America Add Up
Abstract

The field of early American political economy has quietly grown in the last decade, as historians have used a flexible framework to analyze how a wide variety of economic practices and ideas related to formal and informal political formations. Using capacious definitions of “political economy,” historians have followed in the footsteps of their sources, early American political economists, who, unsure of the range of the mechanisms and forces they were trying to describe, were wary of too narrowly delimiting their field of investigation. In contrast to other methodological approaches to early American economic practice, historians investigating political economy have largely been keen to “keep early America weird,” recognizing the unfamiliar and the dissonant in the past while generating important new perspectives on topics of perennial interest, such as the links between slavery and economic growth, and opening new inquiries into state-formation, market-creation, and the import of the early republic’s global connections. This essay highlights some of the common themes and questions driving recent work, delineates how histories of political economy both fit within and diverge from new histories of capitalism, and offers suggestions for further study.


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