Accounting for Slavery: Masters and Management

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Product Details

Harvard University Press
Publish Date
5.4 X 8.2 X 0.9 inches | 0.62 pounds

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About the Author

Caitlin Rosenthal returned to Harvard for her PhD in history after three years with McKinsey & Company. A finalist for the Nevins Prize in economic history and winner of the Krooss Prize for the best dissertation in business history at Harvard University, she was a Newcomen Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard Business School and is now assistant professor of history at the University of California, Berkeley.


Slavery in the United States was a business. A morally reprehensible--and very profitable business. Much of the research around the business history of slavery focuses on the horrors of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the business interests that fueled it. The common narrative is that today's modern management techniques were developed in the factories in England and the industrialized North of the United States, not the plantations of the Caribbean and the American South. According to a new book by historian Caitlin Rosenthal, that narrative is wrong... Rosenthal argues that slaveholders in the American South and Caribbean were using advanced management and accounting techniques long before their northern counterparts. Techniques that are still used by businesses today.--Marketplace
Absolutely compelling.--Diane Coyle"Five Books" (11/26/2018)
[This] history of the accounting and management of slave plantations in the Americas goes a long way towards puncturing common-sense narratives of free market economics.--Martin Myers"Times Higher Education" (10/04/2018)
Full of insights into the history of Atlantic slavery, Accounting for Slavery will force its readers to look with fresh eyes at the many freedoms and unfreedoms of the modern American workplace. This is an original book, which uniquely draws from and speaks to many disciplines, while written compellingly for a wide audience.--Jonathan Levy, University of Chicago
By paying close attention to slaveholders' methods of keeping accounts, Caitlin Rosenthal shows how and why they tried to reduce human beings to marks on a ledger. Anyone concerned with the sometimes dark history of management, data, and modern accounting practices needs to read this brilliant, carefully argued book.--W. Caleb McDaniel, Rice University
Examine[s] how slavery laid the foundation of American capitalism, including the invention of financial instruments, such as bonds that used enslaved people as collateral.--Parul Sehgal"New York Times" (02/27/2019)
Valuable...Rosenthal proves that precise calculation of labor productivity took root in the slave economy. The irony is that it was more aggressively calculated there than among many Northern manufacturers of the time.-- (05/14/2019)
Looks at how sugar and cotton plantations organised and tracked production. It is a fascinating yet horrifying history of how planters saw the slaves they profited from--and how they drove up production...Challenges many dominant ideas about capitalism, class and progress.-- (08/28/2019)