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Brian Luskey

Associate Professor
On leave 2014-15


220A Woodburn Hall
P.O. Box 6303
Morgantown, WV 26506-6303
Phone: 304.293.9328
Fax: 304.293.3616

Teaching Fields:

  • Early America to 1900
  • Social and cultural history
  • Capitalism
  • Cities


  • Ph.D. Emory University, 2004
  • M.A. Emory University, 2000
  • A.B., Davidson College, 1997

Research Interests

I am part of a burgeoning cohort of scholars who study the cultural history of capitalism in the nineteenth-century United States and welcome applications from graduate students interested in working in this field. My work tends to focus on Americans “in the middle,” a phrase meant to evoke both fluid notions of social position and identity as well as the emergence of a variety of brokers and middle(wo)men who rose to prominence in the economy during this period. These people negotiated the commercializing and industrializing economy’s promise and peril, defined who they were through the process of market making and engagement, and sparked debates about the cultural meanings of their economic practices. My first book examines the young men who clerked in nineteenth-century commercial houses and stores. In bustling northeastern cities, these strivers discovered that claiming the identities of successful men—while making sense of a volatile capitalist economy and fluid urban society—was a project fraught with uncertainty. On the Make illuminates the power of the ideology of self-making and the important contests over the meanings of respectability, manhood, and citizenship that helped to determine who clerks were and who they would become. I am currently co-editing, with Wendy A. Woloson, a collection of essays about “shadow” economies in nineteenth-century America that examines the ways a variety of people made markets and shaped debates about the moral legitimacy of economic conduct in nineteenth-century America.

My current research projects expand my study of these economic practices and cultural debates both chronologically and geographically. In my next book, I examine the ways in which the Civil War forced soldiers, entrepreneurs, and consumers to negotiate the practices, power dynamics, and worldviews that were coming to constitute the nation’s culture of capitalism. While soldiers may have fought for a number of different ideological reasons, they often made meaning of their experiences and articulated who they were by writing and thinking about money, goods, and economic transactions. The nation’s burgeoning culture of commercial persuasion—found in advertisements, lithographs, and print media—shaped soldiers’ outlooks, and enlisted men remained crucial participants in family economies by taking advantage of the distributive capacities of express companies that facilitated the transfer of wage packets and consumer products between camp and home. Soldiers created markets among themselves, trading products and services in camp to make profits or make ends meet. Sutlers and agents of distant businessmen helped to shape those camp markets by selling products designed specifically for soldiers. Other entrepreneurs, selling everything from suits of clothes to board games, commodified soldiers and their experiences for eager consumers on the home front. In army camps and in the underground markets created by bounty and substitute brokers, soldiers encountered the process of commodification that was coming to define wage labor relations. At the intersection of markets created by, for, and in soldiers, we can recognize how the culture of capitalism and the Civil War—the two most significant transformative forces in nineteenth-century American life—were intertwined with each other. I have also begun research and made a few presentations on the life and times of a fascinating and nefarious slave trader and swindler named Monroe Edwards. Edwards’ transatlantic career exposes the ways a variety of people sought to achieve ambitions through competing speculations—founded in economic fraud, diplomatic negotiations, and political corruption—about slavery, the slave trade, and the Republic of Texas in the aftermath of the Panic of 1837.

Grad Students Advised



  • Andrew Mach
  • Jessica Mathias

Courses Offered

  • HIST 152: Survey of American History to 1865
  • HIST 257: Antebellum America, 1781-1861
  • HIST 358/558: American Cultural History
  • HIST 453: The Civil War and Reconstruction
  • HIST 466: Early American Capitalism
  • HIST 474: The City in American History
  • HIST 484: Historical Research Capstone ((Topics include Social and Cultural History of 19th-Century America; the Civil War; and the Nineteenth-Century American City)
  • HIST 757: Graduate Readings in U. S. History, 1776-1900
  • HIST 758: Graduate Research Seminar in American History, 1776-1900


On the Make: Clerks and the Quest for Capital in Nineteenth-Century America (New York University Press, 2010).

“Special Marts: Intelligence Offices, Labor Commodification, and Emancipation in Nineteenth-Century America,” Journal of the Civil War Era 3 (September 2013): 360-391.

“The Ambiguities of Class in Antebellum America,” in Sean P. Adams, ed., A Companion to the Era of Andrew Jackson (Blackwell Publishing, forthcoming).

“Dishonest Clerks and the Culture of Capitalism: What’s Old Is New Again,” Ask the Author Roundtable, Common-place (July 2010).

“Jumping Counters in White Collars: Manliness, Respectability, and Work in the Antebellum City,” Journal of the Early Republic 26 (Summer 2006): 173-219.

“What Is My Prospects?: The Contours of Mercantile Apprenticeship, Ambition, and Advancement in the Early American Economy,” Business History Review 78 (Winter 2004): 665-702. (Winner of the 2004 Newcomen-Harvard Special Award in Business History)

“Riot and Respectability: The Shifting Terrain of Class Language and Status in Baltimore during the Great Strike of 1877,” American Nineteenth Century History 4 (Fall 2003): 61-96.

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