NEH Awards Fellowship to Hartigan-O'Connor

By Stephanie Maroney - The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has awarded UC Davis Associate Professor of History Ellen Hartigan-O’Connor a fellowship for university teachers to pursue research and writing on what will be the first book-length history of auctions in early America.

America Under the Hammer: Auctions and Market Culture, 1700-1850 is an economic, social, and cultural study of the auction as an institution, a method of pricing and distribution, and a powerful cultural symbol of commodification. Hartigan-O’Connor’s book addresses a gap in the scholarship into the origins of American capitalism, which has heretofore focused on high-end institutions such as banks and insurers (and the men who controlled them).

“This approach,” Hartigan-O’Connor explains, “has obscured the role of gender in establishing the rules of capitalism and reinforced the marginalization of people who performed the bulk of labor and exchange.” Auctions, she contends, integrated market and household in explicit ways that put women and social bonds at the center of ideas about exchange and worth.

America Under the Hammer brings together law, business records, private letters, and print culture to analyze how used and unique goods circulated within a burgeoning commodity culture in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, challenging long-held ideas about value. The book, Hartigan-O’Connor argues, will “push past the tendency to conceive of economy and society as separate entities to uncover how that division first emerged by offering a dynamic, integrated picture linking the experience of exchange to changing ideas of what an object, a body, or a life was worth.”

During the NEH award year, Hartigan-O’Connor plans to draft the book manuscript and secure an academic publisher for America Under the Hammer. Early findings from the project, supported in part from a DHI Faculty Research Seminar on “Patronage,” have been published in Journal of the Early Republic and Early American Studies.

Hartigan-O’Connor is also the author of The Ties that Buy: Women and Commerce in Revolutionary America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009) – a book that traces the lives of urban women in early America to reveal how they used the ties of residence, work, credit, and money to shape consumer culture at a time when the politics of the marketplace was gaining national significance. The Ties that Bind reveals that women remained essential economic agents in the period between 1750-1820, and that the marketplace was not male-defined nor controlled by men, but by networks, intermediaries, and proxies who were male and female, free, and enslaved.

With fellow UC Davis History faculty Lisa Materson, Hartigan-O’Connor co-edited the Oxford Handbook of American Women’s and Gender History (forthcoming, Oxford University Press), which emerged from an ongoing project at UC Davis concerning women’s and gender history in transnational context. The volume consists of 30 analytical chapters covering topics such as women and US imperialism, interracial unions and state power, gender and sexuality in popular culture, and women’s work under free and unfree labor regimes. The U.S. Women and Gender History project, with support from the Offices of the Provost and Chancellor, the UCHRI, the Davis Humanities Institute, the Institute for Social Sciences, and the Department of History, organized an international conference in the fall of 2014 and maintains a speaker series.

This article by Stephanie Maroney, DHI Graduate Student Researcher and doctoral candidate in Cultural Studies, was originally posted by the UC Davis Humanities Institute.