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Brian Luskey, Ph.D.

Director of Graduate Studies, Associate Professor

Teaching Fields:


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, soldiers, household mistresses, 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 and about capitalist transformation as a whole.

Grad Students Advised


Courses Offered


Men Is Cheap: How the War for Union Unmade Free Labor, (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).

Journal Articles, Book Chapters, and Essays

“Economic Value and Social Values in the Civil War,” in Cambridge History of the American Civil War, ed. Aaron Sheehan-Dean (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming).

“Muster: Inspecting Material Cultures of the Civil War,” Civil War History 63, no. 2 (June 2017): 102-110 (introduction co-authored and issue co-edited with Jason Phillips).

“Houses Divided: The Cultural Economy of Emancipation in the Civil War North,” Journal of the Early Republic 36 (Winter 2016): 637-657.

“Chasing Capital in Hard Times: Monroe Edwards, Slavery, and Sovereignty in the Panicked Atlantic,” Early American Studies 14 (Winter 2016): 82-113.

“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.