Saturdays, September 26, October 3, 10, 17, 24 – 3 pm to 5 pm
What was political radical thought in nineteenth-century America?
This course, Reform in the Age of Capital: Radical Political Thought in the United States, 1829–1877, will focus on the content of the radical political thought in the period historian Eric Hobsbawm named the “Age of Capital,” the period from 1848 to 1875, and within this period the corresponding decades of American industrialization. During this brief time the world saw more wars than the preceding thirty or the succeeding forty years, among them, and “the greatest of all,” according to Hobsbawm, was the American Civil War. It was in this period of human history when social crisis was understood as the expression of the conflict between capital and labor. It was also a time when the optimism of the eighteenth century about the infinite potential of human society and ever-greater bettering of mankind was overwhelmed by the stench of crowded Manchester tenements, mass unemployment in France, and bloody industrial Civil War in the United States.
However, the reformers highlighted in this class continued to act on the belief that a fundamental transformation of society was possible—even necessary. Among these folks we find familiar names like Walt Whitman, Fredrick Douglass and George Henry Evans, but also less-known figures like Margaret Fuller, Carl Schurz and Friedrich Sorge. Were they misguided in their thinking? How did they understand the potential for social transformation in the United States? It is this expression of historical possibility that we will explore in class together.
Pam C. Nogales, who will teach the course, is an American History PhD Candidate at New York University and founding member of the political educational project, the Platypus Affiliated Society. Her research focuses on radical political thought in the United States over the course of the rapid social transformation of the nineteenth century.