Daniel Platt received the Louis Pelzer Memorial Award at the Organization of American Historians (OAH) annual meeting in New Orleans on April 8. The Brown University PhD student in American Studies won the essay competition with his piece, “The Natures of Capital: Jewish Difference and the Decline of American Usury Law, 1909-1925”, which will be published in the Journal of American History.
According to Platt, the essay explores a turning point in American political economy, when the state-level laws that had long set firm limits on allowable interest rates were broadly lifted in the first decades of the twentieth century. He focuses on one of the arguments offered in favor of this change; the notion that usury laws were an artifact of the era in which moneylending was a Jewish trade and that they might not be necessary if non-Jewish bankers were lured into the market. The argument helped to broaden the coalition of reformers advocating for more competitive lending markets, he writes, and the coalition’s success paved the way for the growth of the consumer credit industry from the 1920s to today.
Factors considered in the competition include significance of the subject matter, literary craftsmanship, and competence in the handling of evidence, according to the OAH. See a list of past winners.