Thanks so much to Aaron Thier for his wonderful and informative article on Italo Calvino [“Calculators and Butterflies,” Nov. 24]. I was so impressed by Calvino’s philosophies and writing style that I immediately went online and purchased a copy of Difficult Loves, principally for the short story “Smog.”
Slavery and Capitalism
I enjoyed “Apostles of Growth,” by Timothy Shenk [Nov. 24]. I recommend an excellent book, Reservation “Capitalism”: Economic Development in Indian Country, about Native American capitalism from pre-invasion to the present. It’s by Robert Miller, who taught Indian law at Lewis and Clark College.
Timothy Shenk’s “Apostles of Growth” matches an incisive assessment of how slavery in the United States figures centrally in new histories of capitalism with a demonstration of why that matters to progressive politics. What is lacking, and not without irony, is attention to a longer history of engaged scholarship that has demonstrated the ways slavery was integral and internal to modern capitalism as it was forged in the Americas. The groundbreaking work of anthropologists Eric Wolf and Sidney Mintz foreshadows and, one can only hypothesize, informs the work of the historians to whom Shenk refers. Some nod to this precedent would have been welcome, especially given the deep and productive entanglements of history and anthropology today.
I am grateful to Oren Kosansky for allowing me to correct an omission made to prevent an already lengthy essay from becoming even longer. He is right to draw attention to the importance of Eric Wolf’s and Sidney Mintz’s writings; but, as I am sure he is well aware, the list of major antecedents to the newest students of slavery’s relationship to capitalism extends well beyond these two scholars. Eric Williams’s classic 1944 Capitalism and Slavery remains an essential starting point for any serious consideration of the topic, and Williams has worthy successors in more recent figures such as Ira Berlin, Robin Blackburn, Barbara Fields, Cedric Robinson, Seth Rockman and Stephanie Smallwood.