Workshop on Capitalism Informs Study of Slavery and Freedom

Workshop on Capitalism Informs Study of Slavery and Freedom

Alisha Hines is a Ph.D. candidate in History and African and African American Studies at Duke. Last spring she received a Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grant to attend a summer workshop on the history of capitalism; her aim was to learn about technical content areas such as statistics, accounting and economic theory in order to apply quantitative methods and techniques to her study of slavery and freedom in the middle Mississippi River Valley. Now back on campus, she shared this update.

At the History of Capitalism Workshop at Cornell University this summer, I participated in an intensive introductory series to a range of topics and skills including corporate finance, statistics, economics and other topics. Participants attended class each day from 9:00 to 6:00, during which the day’s lecturer would introduce us to their field of specialization (the majority of our lecturers were faculty at Cornell or nearby institutions). The idea is that historians of capitalism would be able to gain a greater sense of how corporations work, the logic of accounting and the grammar of economics in order to approach our sources and topics in new ways and with more technical grounding.

In addition, we spoke with historians of capitalism in the field who have implemented the kind of skills we were developing in the course in their own work. Archivists from repositories with collections related to business history, such as the Baker Library at Harvard, walked us through some of their collections and resources that might be useful to our work. The sort of “hard” skills we learned were how to use statistical software (JMP), Excel and also some digital mapping techniques.

The workshop was quite useful to me because I use steamboat company records in my research and I now feel more confident reading ledgers and account books, and can ask new questions about the hiring practices, for example, of steamboat captains and how they might have assessed the risk of employing enslaved men and women in river work. In addition, I was able to learn more about mapping techniques that are somewhat more accessible than GIS, which I can use to chart patterns of mobility of black women in the Mississippi River Valley.

Finally, I was able to meet a number of historians whose work overlaps geographically or thematically with my own and have some invigorating conversations about our research ideas and the history of capitalism more generally. I have even planned to submit a panel proposal to an upcoming history conference with a fellow cohort member. The organizers of the workshop have facilitated an ongoing network among participants in the program that I will certainly continue to draw on and contribute to as I proceed in my academic career.

This internal funding mechanism from the Office of the Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies encourages graduate students to step away from their core research and training to acquire additional skills, knowledge or co-curricular experiences that will give them new perspectives on their research agendas. Graduate Student Training Enhancement Grants are intended to deepen preparation for academic positions and other career trajectories.

Photo courtesy of Alisha Hines (History of Capitalism Summer Workshop 2016 cohort)

Preparing for Job Market, Grad Students Create Online Lessons for Humanities Center

 Humanities grad students Hannah Ontiveros and Kelly Tang participated in the NHC pilot program

Doctoral students in the humanities know they’ll be entering a tight job market. This summer, four Duke students gained an edge by building their pedagogical skills at the National Humanities Center in Durham.

Each student chose a text that addresses elements of a standard high school curriculum in American history or literature and created an online National Humanities Center lesson for high school teachers.

Johnnie Holland, a Ph.D. student in History, selected an anti-lynching pamphlet by Ida B. Wells. Ph.D. student in English Karen Little chose “Ballad of the Landlord,” a poem by Langston Hughes. History Ph.D. student Hannah Ontiveros worked with an anti-feminist speech by Phyllis Schlaffly. Kelly Tang, a Ph.D. student in Art, Art History and Visual Studies, took on Citizen 13660, a graphic novel about the internment of Japanese Americans.

The pilot internship program grew out of conversations between Richard Schramm, then the vice president for education programs at the National Humanities Center, and Ed Balleisen, vice provost for interdisciplinary studies at Duke. Four graduate students from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill joined the cohort.

“Our meetings were highly collaborative, providing ample opportunity to receive insightful feedback from peers and NHC staff—often from the perspective of what works practically in a classroom and what teachers’ needs are,” Tang said. ”We were encouraged to explore and experiment at every step and were given advice on how to conceptualize our plans, not what they should be.

“And I think we felt a greater awareness of a Triangle-area graduate student community that may individually work on different time periods, source materials and methods, but share an interest in bettering classrooms throughout the United States.”

To create their lessons, the students developed a framing question, orientation for teachers, background information for students, interactive exercises and a follow-up assignment. Over four sessions, they received coaching and critiques of their work in progress from their dissertation advisers.

In an evaluation, students reflected on their experiences, which many noted would enhance their career prospects. The National Humanities Center hopes to offer the program again next summer.

“The internship was a great experience,” said Ontiveros. “It had me thinking critically about not only my pedagogy and writing for a non-academic audience, but also about how to ask the really simple questions that cut to the core of a document—an invaluable skill for a historian. It was also inspiring to work with my fellow interns. Each person’s work raised important and very interesting questions.”

Originally published on Duke Today

Photo: Humanities grad students Kelly Tang and Hannah Ontiveros participated in the NHC pilot program.


Faculty Receive Bass Connections Awards to Develop Courses


Bass Connections has awarded four course development funds to groups of Duke faculty members whose pedagogical ideas will expand interdisciplinary curricular options for undergraduates as well as graduate and professional students.

This Spring an RFP invited Duke faculty, departments or schools to organize new courses or modify existing ones that align with one or more of the Bass Connections themes and are multidisciplinary, open to students at different levels and/or ask questions of societal importance. Such courses will augment theme leaders’ efforts to enrich the curricular pathways available to undergraduate and graduate students.

Managing Networks     

Submitted by Lisa Keister with Susan Alberts, Christopher Bail, Jonathon Cummings, James Moody, Martin Ruef

  • Faculty affiliations: Trinity College of Arts & Sciences (Biology, Evolutionary Anthropology, Sociology, Markets and Management Certificate Program); Fuqua School of Business; Nicholas School of the Environment (Marine Science and Conservation); Center for Population Health & Aging; Duke Institute for Brain Sciences; Duke Network Analysis Center; Duke Population Research Institute
  • Bass Connections theme: Information, Society & Culture

Networks are pervasive in the social, economic, political and natural worlds. Network data and methods – and concurrently our ability to conceptualize and analyze networks – have expanded dramatically in recent years, and Duke is a central location in which this research is being conducted. This course is about the role that networks play in organizations. It will involve multiple faculty from across schools, invite outside experts to provide guest lectures and include project-based assignments. Graduate students and post-docs from various disciplines will participate as assistants and project leaders.

Engineering and Anthropology of Biomedical Engineering (BME) Design in Uganda

Submitted by William Reichert and Kearsley Stewart

Dr. Reichert established the Duke-Makerere University in Kampala (MUK) BME Partnership in coordination with Duke BME, Duke Global Health Institute, Pratt School of Engineering, the Provost’s Office and the Duke Africa Initiative. The goal of this course is to integrate the design and anthropological elements of the Duke-MUK experience into a single course offered to both BME and global health undergraduate and graduate students. It will proceed pedagogically as a design class superimposed with the relevant anthropology of working directly with students in Uganda.

History of Global Health

Submitted by Nicole Barnes and Margaret Humphreys

  • Faculty affiliations: Trinity College of Arts & Sciences (History); School of Medicine; Duke Global Health Institute
  • Bass Connections theme: Global Health

The history of global health contains valuable perspectives for thinking through current health challenges. The course begins with the development of ancient medicine in Europe and China, and continues into the rise of biomedicine in the 19th and 20th centuries. It addresses particular diseases as case studies through which to explore important themes in global health history, and traces global circulations of people and commodities to show how international agencies, charities and governing bodies have spread both disease and the means to fight it.

Integrating Environmental Science and Policy

Submitted by Lori Bennear and Patrick Halpin

  • Faculty affiliations: Nicholas School of the Environment (Environmental Economics and Policy, Marine Science and Conservation); Trinity College of Arts & Sciences (Economics); Sanford School of Public Policy; Energy Initiative; Science & Society
  • Bass Connections theme: Energy

Environmental challenges are inherently multidisciplinary, drawing upon principles from ecology, earth sciences, biochemistry, economics, political science and ethics. Employing in-depth case studies, this course will explore the complex interactions that characterize current environmental problems. Course objectives include: exposing students to interdisciplinary approaches to environmental science and policy; allowing students to develop analytic tools to address environmental issues; and fostering collaborative group-based analytic experiences consistent with real-world environmental problem solving.

Faculty recipients of these course development funds will be invited to share their experiences at a luncheon or dinner at the end of year.

Learn how to get involved with Bass Connections.

Ed Balleisen on Catalyzing Collaborative Interdisciplinary Research


Ed Balleisen, Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies at Duke, has been a part of the Tobin Project since 2006, chairing the Economic Regulation Working Group through two major conferences and coediting Government and Markets: Toward a New Theory of Regulation.

Founded in 2005, the Tobin Project is an independent, nonprofit research organization motivated by the belief that rigorous scholarship on major, real-world problems can make a profound difference. Its mission is to mobilize, motivate and support a community of scholars across the social sciences and allied fields seeking to deepen our understanding of significant challenges facing the nation over the long term.

Balleisen’s participation in Tobin’s Government & Markets initiative led to the Rethinking Regulation program at Duke’s Kenan Institute for Ethics. Rethinking Regulation brings together an interdisciplinary regional network of scholars for collaborative research projects that investigate the effectiveness and public-interestedness of regulation. A forthcoming edited volume studies regulatory responses to major crises.

In its annual update, the Tobin Project featured the Government & Markets work and interviewed Balleisen about how he got started with organizing interdisciplinary scholarship at Duke. Read the articles on pages 6 and 7 of the Tobin Project Update.

Duke Professor Takes an Interdisciplinary Approach to Understanding the History of a Musical Instrument


From its origins in Africa to its evolutions in the Caribbean and US, the banjo has a long and rich history—but one that’s “frustratingly hard to get at,” says Laurent Dubois, professor of romance studies and history at Duke.

“When you get into what we call black music or Afro-Atlantic music, it’s 600 years of currents of exchange,” Dubois says, “and for most of the history it was never written down. It’s extremely rare before the 19th century that’s there’s any written music.”

Dubois, who specializes in the history and culture of the Atlantic world and who also plays the banjo, set out to produce a book about the history of the instrument. Recognizing that formal training in music and ethnomusicology would enrich his work, he applied for a New Directions Fellowship from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

dubois_cmsThese prestigious fellowships assist humanities faculty who seek training in areas outside their specialties. About a dozen scholars are selected annually and can spend up to three years pursuing new areas of knowledge.

The first Duke faculty member to be selected, Dubois received the fellowship in 2010 and began taking classes at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke. “It allowed me to slow down and become a student again,” he says.

It wasn’t easy. At Duke “I took a music theory class and found it extremely challenging,” he laughs. “It was an undergraduate course and I was by far the slowest student, but I learned a ton.” He participated in graduate seminars at UNC with David Garcia and at Duke with Louise Meintjes and Paul Berliner. “Those were really interesting departures for me,” he says, pointing to one class that bridged the pra

ctice of music—he learned to play the mbira, an African thumb piano—with “highly theoretical questions of how we think about music across cultures.”

When he began his book project, Dubois planned to use written archives to write about discourses around music. “Being able to take these classes really reconfigured that,” he notes, “so that the music itself became much more central.”

He also spent time working with instrument makers. “A couple of the biggest insights in the book came out of that dialogue and helped me understand big historical things like why instruments were made in certain ways at certain times.”

Yet writing about music is a strange thing, he says, since music transcends the limits of language. “The reconfiguration of thinking that I went through because of the fellowship made me realize I could only do certain things in the digital form, precisely because I wanted to move beyond just using words.”

Therefore he capitalized on the fellowship’s flexibility to expand into digital projects, which he hadn’t planned. This time he sought out Duke students rather than faculty experts. In partnership with Mary Caton Lingold, a doctoral student in English, and David Garner, a doctoral student in music composition, he created a website called Banjology. The site aims to share research along with musical transcription and analysis and to serve as a resource for musicians.

Most banjo songs had never been written out, Dubois notes, and he relished the rich discussions about how to transcribe them. “That was incredibly interesting. Certainly both of them have taught me probably more than they’ve learned from me.”

banjo-in-african-diaspora30His journey also led to new collaborations with faculty. “I deepened my connections with people in the music department, and I discovered how many people at Duke are musicians or have music as part of their practice. I started collaborating with Mark Anthony Neal, who writes a lot about music, and Cecelia Conway at Appalachian State. I did an event in New Orleans that involved putting African musicians and New Orleans musicians in dialogue with scholars. That was great. It created a set of connections for me that are ongoing.”

New Directions Fellowships are intended to be long-term investments in scholars’ intellectual range and productivity. “What the fellowship encouraged me to do was just slow down,” says Dubois, “to explore areas and to understand the fields of music, music theory, ethnomusicology…and I ended up discovering this whole field called organology, the study of musical instruments. All those sorts of things will probably influence me long term, and I can point students to these resources.”

Dubois earned an interdisciplinary doctorate in history and anthropology and has been “quite interdisciplinary all along,” he says. But the fellowship more deeply anchored his sense of what it means to work across disciplines.

“The prestige and support offered by the fellowship gave me a sense of freedom and space to explore,” he notes, “and helped to embolden me in terms of my approaches and ambitions for my work.”

Dubois’s book on the Afro-Atlantic history of the banjo will be published this Spring by Harvard University Press. “I think my book took longer to write because of the fellowship, and as a result it is a lot better in the end,” he adds.

Looking ahead, he thinks his teaching and research “will be much more musical and cultural than before. I feel much more comfortable doing that kind of work. I was a musician before, but this gave me a much richer spectrum of ways of thinking about it.”

Photo 1: Dubois onstage at an event hosted by Duke University Libraries at Fullsteam Brewery about the history of the banjo; courtesy of Duke University Libraries; Photos 2 and 3 courtesy of Laurent Dubois