Lindsay Schakenbach Regele is a doctoral candidate in the Brown History Department. She works on the history of early America and colonial Latin America, with a specific focus on the history of capitalism and American foreign relations. Her articles have been published in New York History and the New England Quarterly. Awarded the Peter Green Doctoral Fellowship by the History Department in 2012-2013, she has received numerous external grants and awards in support of her research. Most recently, she was named a PEAES postdoctoral fellow for 2015-2016 at the Library Company of Philadelphia. In August 2015, she will join the faculty of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, as an assistant professor of History.
Lindsay generously agreed to answer a few questions about her research.
What are you working on for your dissertation? How did you settle on a topic, and how did the project change and evolve as you spent more time in the archives?
My dissertation is a geopolitical interpretation of the American industrial revolution. It centers on the arms and textile industries in New England, which is where the majority of the nation’s small arms were produced and where large-scale textile manufacturing developed first, and connects industrial developments to territorial expansion, war, and diplomatic negotiations. This project emerged out of an article I wrote on the relationship between a group of Boston merchant-industrialists and the Transcontinental Treaty. The article itself actually started as a study of piracy and US-Spanish relations during Latin American independence wars, but then I started paying attention to shipping claims while at the same time becoming more interested in the relationship between business and state power. Since this one particular group of Boston merchants, who received a big chunk of federal funds as a result of the settlement of shipping claims funneled the capital from the claims settlements into factory development, I wanted to see the other ways they benefitted from state support, whether direct or indirect. I also was interested in US -South American trade. I had seen references to dye stuffs and hides being imported from South America, and finished goods being exported there as early as the 1820s. I came at industry first through diplomatic papers, namely the consular despatches – which are all these letters, pamphlets and trade statistics that US consular agents sent back to the state department from their various posts in Latin American ports. In these documents I began to see consuls’ negotiating favorable trade policies. I also saw several references to arms imports into South America from the US during the Independence Wars of the 1810s, even though the United States was supposedly neutral at this time. Soon after that, someone mentioned that lots of industrial innovation was happening in the arms industry in Springfield, Massachusetts. I had no real intention of focusing on arms in my dissertation, but I checked out the records at the New England Branch of the National archives and on my first day saw several mentions of arms sales to Buenos Aires. So that seemed promising. The more I read the more I became interested in all these letters written from private gun contractors to the federal armory. They were totally dependent on government patronage. Basically, despite the “right to bear arms” in the United States, there was not enough civilian demand to create a robust arms industry. Textiles of course were different – there would be a market regardless. But the precise ways in which the industry developed depended on government policies. When I began to think in terms of national security it all made sense.
The study of the history of capitalism has grown rapidly over the past few years. How do you see your work fitting in with that trend? How has your approach to capitalism been influenced by other scholars and events at Brown?
Because the “new history of capitalism” has become so capacious, I would say that my work, because it intervenes in scholarship on political economy, foreign relations, and military history, fits in with field’s intersectional approach to economic development. The “new history of capitalism” basically brings together business, labor, social and cultural histories to “denaturalize” capitalism, but while recent historians have been less concerned with defining or locating the origins of capitalism– and more focused on showing how a capitalist cultural logic operates in different times, I’m interested in showing precisely how and when industrial capitalism emerged in the United States. Brown has without a doubt had a huge influence on my approach to early US history. My adviser Seth Rockman, has in some ways become kind of a spokesperson for the new history of capitalism (whether wittingly or not). He co-organized the Slavery’s Capitalism conference at Brown and Harvard in 2011, wrote a historiographic review of the field in the Journal of the Early Republic, and teaches a history of capitalism class at Brown, for which I’ve had the opportunity to TA. Seth’s own approach to historical questions and his feedback on my work, whether formal comments or offhand suggestions for readings, have shaped every stage of my dissertation, as well as the types of research questions I ask more generally. Additionally, participating in Cornell’s first “Histories of American Capitalism” this past fall gave me the chance to think more critically about what the “new history of capitalism” is exactly.
You've already had articles published in New York History and the New England Quarterly, with the latter piece, "From Discontented Bostonians to Patriotic Industrialists", winning the prestigious Walter Muir Whitehill prize in Early American History. How did you fit these articles in with your work on the dissertation, and what advice would you give to other graduate students who are working to balance publication with completion?
The New York History article came out of my master’s thesis and sparked my original interest in US Latin American relations during the independence wars. The NEQ article emerged out of a paper I wrote for Mike Vorenberg’s Legal History seminar my second semester at Brown. It ended up snowballing into my dissertation topic and providing the basis for one of the chapters.
I think one strategy for balancing publication with completion is to, throughout the research process, ask yourself, “what could I write, right now?” Hopefully something will turn into an article, and if not, it can at least be put toward your dissertation.
Now that your dissertation is almost behind you, do you have any plans for the next big project?
I would like to continue exploring the connections among federal policy, technological innovation and economic development. I am thinking about a project on the role of federal bureaucrats in early American economic development vis-à-vis science and technology from the founding through the Civil War. It would examine the influence of individual bureaucrats on military science, patents, the Coast Survey, weights and measures, and exploratory missions, all of which impacted American business life. Individual federal officials had the power to shape and constrain the legislative policies of Congress, the judicial decisions of courts, and the business decisions of merchants and corporations, even as they worked within and were constrained by configurations of institutions. As such, they influenced the range of economic options available to American citizens. While historians of science have studied the ways in which federal bureaucracy influenced advancements in scientific learning, middle bureaucrats have largely escaped the attention of historians of capitalism and political economy.