2011-2012 Business History Forum at Columbia University

The Business History Forum at Columbia University highlights the relationship between Columbia University and the city through the history of city, national, and global businesses. The Forum features speakers who address the past, present and future of industries that have been and, in many cases, continue to be important to the development of New York City, including accounting; communications, finance; law; media; real estate/development; theater; and trade. It brings together academic experts, industry practitioners, students, and the public. The Forum also provides examples of how the university acquires, preserves, and provides access to business collections through its Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Questions? E-mail Eric Wakin.

All sessions take place in 523 Butler Library, 6:30– 8:00 p.m. unless otherwise noted.

Spring 2012

First Liberty Loan Parade, October 26, 1917 Bankers at First Liberty Loan Parade, October 26, 1917, Washington Square Park, New York City, Library of Congress (J.P. Morgan, Jr. or Jack Morgan stands in the center with umbrella. Jacob H. Schiff of Kuhn, Loeb and Co. is to the right looking down)

February 28, 2012 (Tuesday)

Susie J. Pak
Assistant Professor of History
St. John’s University

J.P. Morgan, German-Jewish Bankers, and the Crisis of the First World War
Pak will present a history of how the First World War created a crisis among New York’s elite investment bankers, focusing on the relationship of the partners of J.P. Morgan & Co. and their main competitor, the German Jewish bank of Kuhn, Loeb & Co. Pak will describe how elite bankers dealt with the conflict presented by the War and the attendant rise of American state power and nationalism. In the process, Pak demonstrates how the Morgans, who were often portrayed as leaders of a collusive elite bound by the pursuit of money living in a world onto themselves, were in fact deeply embedded in the society around them and thus, not immune to the racial and ethnic prejudices and gender hierarchies that characterized the New York society where they lived. Based on her forthcoming book, Gentlemen Bankers.
Register for this event

Co-Sponsors: Rare Book & Manuscript Library; Herbert H. Lehman Center for American History; St. John’s University Department of History

Royal Exchange The Royal Exchange, 1855-65

March 27, 2012 (Tuesday)

Mary O'Sullivan
Professor of Economic History and Director of the Paul Bairoch Institute of Economic History
University of Geneva

Why Yankee Doodle went to London: American Corporate Securities on the London Market, 1865-1914
Railroads dominated British investors' portfolios of American corporate securities from the mid-19th century until the eve of World War I. Nevertheless, by the end of this period, there had been a substantial diversification of these portfolios to include securities from other types of American enterprises. The trend began with the end of the Civil War but it was the dramatic and unprecedented burst of enthusiasm by British investors for American industrial companies, especially breweries, in the late 1880s that really caught the attention of contemporaries. These “Anglo-American” industrial securities on the London Stock Exchange tell us much more about what British investors wanted than what American companies needed.

Co-Sponsors: Rare Book & Manuscript Library; Herbert H. Lehman Center for American History; Paul Bairoch Institute of Economic History at the University of Geneva


April 5, 2012 (Thursday)

Daniel Raff
Associate Professor of Management
Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

The Business of Oxford University Press and the Future of Academic Publishing
The Oxford University Press is the largest academic publisher in the world and, arguably, the oldest.  Many of the resources and capabilities behind its growth over the first two-thirds of the twentieth century have become increasingly problematic since then. Raff will discuss, from an evolutionary perspective, the business history of how the Press navigated the turbulent operating environment of the 1970s and 80s and then emerged amidst the technological dislocation of the new millennium. The future of academic presses as businesses remains uncertain if not precarious; and whether the new technology will lead to a regeneration of knowledge diffusion or its end as we have known it is a dominant question for academics in our time.

Co-Sponsors: Rare Book & Manuscript Library; Herbert H. Lehman Center for American History


June 15, 2012 (Friday)

Private vs. Public Responses to Banking Crises: Clearinghouses vs. Central Banks

A one-day conference of scholarly research on financial crises in a world where no central bank existed or little or no government support was given to financial institutions during crises, with the notion that a better understanding of past crises could enable researchers studying more recent ones to better inform policymakers about effective options. Participants included  Charles Calomiris (Columbia Business School); Benjamin Chabot (Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago); Sujit “Bob” Chakravorti (The Clearing House); John Coatsworth (Columbia); Christopher Hanes (Binghamton University); Eric Hilt (Wellesley College); James McAndrews (Federal Reserve Bank of New York); Jon Moen (University of Mississippi); Ernest Patrikis (White & Case); Stephen Quinn (Texas Christian University); Gary Richardson (University of California, Irvine); William Roberds (Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta); Paul Saltzman (The Clearing House); Richard Sylla (New York University); Ellis Tallman (Oberlin and Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland); David F. Weiman (Columbia).

Co-Sponsors: Columbia University Libraries; The Clearing House

Fall 2011


October 5, 2011 (Thursday)

Alexander J. Field
Michael and Mary Orradre Professor of Economics
Santa Clara University

A Great Leap Forward: 1930s Depression and U.S. Economic Growth.
Field’s book is a bold re-examination of the history of U.S. economic growth built around a novel claim: that productive capacity grew dramatically across the Depression years (1929-1941) and that this advance provided the foundation for the economic and military success of the United States during the Second World War as well as for the golden age (1948-1973) that followed. James Surowiecki of the New Yorker called the book “extraordinary.” Tyler Cowen described it as “(a)masterpiece….one of the best economics books of the last ten years…one of the best books on the Depression…the only economic interpretation of WWII that makes sense… one of the must reads of the year.” Field described the 1930s as “the most technologically progressive decade of the century” in a recent interview with David Leonhardt of the New York Times.

Co-Sponsors: Rare Book & Manuscript Library; Herbert H. Lehman Center for American History


October 25, 2011

Eric Hilt
Wellesley College and the Russell Sage Foundation
Wall Street and the Rise of the Corporation in New York: 1791-1826

In the early decades of the 19th century business corporations proliferated throughout New York City, and ordinary citizens invested in corporate stock at an increasing rate. During this time, new enterprises revolutionized business and finance in the city, and were often promoted by Wall Street speculators. Hilt describes the legal and political struggles to protect small investors that followed in the wake of scandals.

Co-Sponsors: Rare Book & Manuscript Library; Herbert H. Lehman Center for American History

Zakim cover design

November 29, 2011 (Tuesday)

Michael Zakim, Tel Aviv University
Edward Baptist, Cornell University
Elizabeth Blackmar, Columbia University
Jonathan Levy, Princeton University

Capitalism Takes Command: The Social Transformation of Nineteenth-Century America
Capitalism Takes Command presents original histories of the commercialization of farming, the creation of a national mortgage market, the collateralization of slaves, the invention of office systems, and more—an inventory of means by which capitalism became America’s new revolutionary tradition. This collection of essays argues that capitalism’s effects reached far beyond the purview of the economy. As business ceaselessly revised its own practices, a new demographic of private bankers, insurance brokers, investors in securities, and young clerks hoping to make partner, among many others, assumed center stage, displacing older elites and forms of property. Explaining how capital became an “ism” and how business became a social philosophy, Capitalism Takes Command brings the economy back into the mainstream of American history.

Panelists will discuss
•    "Capitalism:  An American Revolutionary Tradition" (Zakim)
•    "Toxic Debt, Liar Loans, Collateralized and Securitized Human Beings, and the Panic of 1837" (Baptist)
•    "Inheriting Property and Debt: From Family Security to Corporate Accumulation" (Blackmar)
•    "The Mortgage Worked the Hardest: The Fate of Landed Independence in Nineteenth-Century America" (Levy)

Co-Sponsors: Rare Book & Manuscript Library; Herbert H. Lehman Center for American History; History Department at Eugene Lang College/New School for Social Research.