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Celebrating Recent Work by Hannah Farber

March 31, 2022

Underwriters of the United States

by: Hannah Farber

Published by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the University of North Carolina Press

Unassuming but formidable, American maritime insurers used their position at the pinnacle of global trade to shape the new nation. The international information they gathered and the capital they generated enabled them to play central roles in state building and economic development. During the Revolution, they helped the U.S. negotiate foreign loans, sell state debts, and establish a single national bank. Afterward, they increased their influence by lending money to the federal government and to its citizens. Even as federal and state governments began to encroach on their domain, maritime insurers adapted, preserving their autonomy and authority through extensive involvement in the formation of commercial law. Leveraging their claims to unmatched expertise, they operated free from government interference while simultaneously embedding themselves into the nation’s institutional fabric. By the early nineteenth century, insurers were no longer just risk assessors. They were nation builders and market makers.

Deeply and imaginatively researched, Underwriters of the United States uses marine insurers to reveal a startlingly original story of risk, money, and power in the founding era.

About the Author:

Professor Hannah Farber specializes in the political economy of colonial North America, the early American republic, and the Atlantic World. Her first book, Underwriters of the United States (Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture/UNC Press, 2021) explains how the transnational system of marine insurance, by governing the behavior of American merchants, influenced the establishment and early development of the American republic.

Additional research interests include early modern globalization and the visual and material culture of ocean commerce. Early-stage projects include a cultural history of interest rates and a study of commercial property marks as phenomena with visual, material, and legal aspects.

Hannah Farber is a series editor for American Beginnings, 1500-1900, at the University of Chicago Press, and a frequent co-organizer of the Columbia University Seminar on Early American History and Culture. She was a 2020-2021 recipient of a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellow at the New-York Historical Society.

About the Speakers:

Charly Coleman, Associate Professor of History, specializes in the European Enlightenment and the French Revolution, with a particular emphasis on the intersections between religion, philosophy, and political economy. His latest monograph, The Spirit of French Capitalism: Economic Theology in the Age of Enlightenment (Stanford University Press, 2021), uncovers a distinctly Catholic ethic of commodity culture that—in contrast to Weber’s famous “Protestant ethic”—privileged the marvelous over the mundane, consumption over production, and the pleasures of enjoyment over the rigors of delayed gratification. He is also the author of The Virtues of Abandon: An Anti-Individualist History of the French Enlightenment (Stanford University Press, 2014), which was awarded the 2016 Laurence Wylie Prize in French Cultural Studies. His research on personhood and property has appeared in The Journal of Modern History, Modern Intellectual History, French Historical Studies, and various edited volumes. He is currently at work on a new book that extends the history of economic theology to debates over the fate of ecclesiastical property, paper money, and civic religion during the French Revolution.

A noted legal historian, Jeremy Kessler writes primarily about First Amendment law, administrative law, and constitutional law. His forthcoming book, Fortress of Liberty: The Rise and Fall of the Draft and the Remaking of American Law (Harvard University Press, 2021) explores how the contested development of the military draft transformed the relationship between civil liberties law and the American administrative state. Kessler’s past scholarship has investigated the origins of modern First Amendment law, the legal and political economic foundations of the administrative state, and transatlantic debates about the relationship between rights and governance throughout the 20th century. His articles have appeared in the Harvard Law Review, Columbia Law Review, University of Chicago Law Review, University of Pennsylvania Law Review, and Texas Law Review, among other publications.

Emma Hart teaches and researches the history of early North America, the Atlantic World, and early modern Britain between 1500 and 1800. At Penn she is a Professor of History, the Richard S. Dunn Director of the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, and a co-editor of the Penn Press series, “Early American Studies.” Her major research interests lie in urban history, social, and economic history, as well as in the intersections of history, material culture, urban studies, geography and sociology. She has written two books; Building Charleston: Town and Society in the Eighteenth-Century British Atlantic World (UVA Press, 2010/University of South Carolina Press, 2015) and Trading Spaces: The Colonial Marketplace and the Foundations of American Capitalism (University of Chicago Press, 2019). Additionally she has published scholarly articles in, among other places, The William and Mary Quarterly, Early American Studies, The Journal of Southern History, Urban History (where she co-edited a special issue on early modern cities and globalization with Mariana Dantas), Eighteenth-Century Studies, and The Journal of Urban History. Her essays are also part of The Cambridge History of America and the World (2021), and The Cambridge History of the American Revolution (forthcoming).

Moderated by:

Adam Kosto specializes in the institutional and legal history of medieval Europe, with a focus on Catalonia and the Mediterranean. He received his B.A. from Yale (1989), an M.Phil. from Cambridge (1990), and his Ph.D. from Harvard (1996). He is the author of Making Agreements in Medieval Catalonia: Power, Order, and the Written Word, 1000-1200 (Cambridge UP, 2001) and Hostages in the Middle Ages (Oxford UP, 2012), and co-editor of The Experience of Power in Medieval Europe , 950-1350 (Ashgate, 2005), Charters, Cartularies, and Archives: The Preservation and Transmission of Documents in the Medieval West (PIMS, 2002), and Documentary Practices and the Laity in the Early Middle Ages (Cambridge UP, 2012). He is a member of the Commission Internationale de Diplomatique and currently serves as program director for Columbia's History in Action initiative.