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Brian Luskey

Director of Graduate Studies
Associate Professor


202D 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 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 focuses 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 middlemen who rose to prominence in the economy during this period. My subjects—clerks, employment agents called “intelligence office” keepers, and slave traders among them—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 current book project, Soldiers of Fortune: Striving and Surviving in the Union Army, is under advance contract with the University of North Carolina Press. In this book, I examine the ways the Civil War presented economic opportunities and dangers for soldiers, entrepreneurs, and consumers as they attempted to negotiate the practices, power dynamics, and worldviews that were coming to constitute the nation’s economy. I argue that 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.

Grad Students Advised



  • Chad Holmes
  • Kris Wilson

Courses Offered

  • HIST 152: Survey of American History to 1865
  • HIST 358/558: The Age of Panics, 1819-1893
  • HIST 453: Civil War and Reconstruction
  • HIST 454: The Coming of the Civil War
  • HIST 484: Historical Research Capstone: Abraham Lincoln’s America
  • HIST 757: Graduate Readings in U. S. History, 1776-1900
  • HIST 758: Graduate Research Seminar in American History, 1776-1900


Soldiers of Fortune: Striving and Surviving in the Union Army (Under advance contract, University of North Carolina Press, writing in progress)

Capitalism by Gaslight: Illuminating the Economy of Nineteenth-Century America, co-edited with Wendy A. Woloson (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015)

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

“Chasing Capital in Hard Times: Monroe Edwards, Slavery, and Sovereignty in the Panicked Atlantic,” Early American Studies (forthcoming Winter 2016).

“Men Is Cheap,” Disunion (Blog of the New York Times), February 4, 2015.

“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, 2013): 194-212

“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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