Class Analysis in Early America and the Atlantic World: Foundations and Future

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Given the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the growing strength of global capitalism, the deindustrialization of wealthy nations, and new academic fashions, class relations are often considered an obsolete mode of historical analysis. Yet unprecedented levels of material inequality and class fragmentation continue to plague both the wealthier and the poorer parts of the world. Addressing this fundamental disconnect between contemporary historical scholarship and reality, Class Analysis in Early America and the ...

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Overview

Given the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the growing strength of global capitalism, the deindustrialization of wealthy nations, and new academic fashions, class relations are often considered an obsolete mode of historical analysis. Yet unprecedented levels of material inequality and class fragmentation continue to plague both the wealthier and the poorer parts of the world. Addressing this fundamental disconnect between contemporary historical scholarship and reality, Class Analysis in Early America and the Atlantic World, a special issue of Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas, offers a reevaluation of the potential and future of class analysis in scholarly work, particularly as it relates to increasing the understanding of the popular struggle in the early modern Atlantic world, a struggle that lies at the heart of many of today’s class-related dilemmas.

Assembling essays written by three generations of labor historians, each with markedly different approaches to the labor histories of early America and the Atlantic world, this issue offers unique insights into the evolution of class analysis and its shifting place in the field of labor history. In one essay, a renowned member of the first generation of “new social historians” reflects on his work, considering the past and future of class analysis while highlighting some of his current views about class in early America. In other essays, a new generation of scholars enriches scholarship on early America and the Atlantic by incorporating complex and nuanced discussions of race and gender into traditional class analyses. Perhaps signaling the future of the field, another essay discusses the theoretical foundations and implications of a globalized mode of historical class analysis, examining the complicated connections among peoples in Europe, Africa, and North America during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and the impact these connections had in shaping early America and the Atlantic world.

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