The Center for the History of Business, Technology, and Society organizes events designed to bring attention to Hagley’s research collections and the topics with which they engage. Our author talk series features recent original books that draw on Hagley materials and address topics of interest to a general audience. Research seminars invite audiences to read and offer thoughts on pre-circulated work in progress original historical essays, and intended for a cross-over audience of active scholars and the interested public. Conferences are organized in around a thematic call for papers and are comprised of academic presentations based on original research. Many conferences form the basis for edited volumes published in the University of Pennsylvania Press series, Hagley Perspectives on Business and Culture.
Upcoming Author Talks
Susan Murray will offer the featured author talk at Hagley this fall on her new book Bright Signals: A History of Color Television. Drawing creatively on the David Sarnoff and RCA materials now held by Hagley’s library, Murray will trace color television’s origins as an exotic novelty in the 1920s and 1930s and explain how it became the standard for television programing in the 1960s and 1970s. In a complex story full of vexing technological obstacles, false starts, and indifferent consumers, Murray will describe how major media companies developed effective color programming, affordable color televisions for home use, and generated consumer interest in seeing television programs in color. Color television was an incredibly complex technology of visual culture that ultimately disrupted and reframed the very idea of television for American audiences. Published in 2018, Bright Signals has received the 2019 Katherine Singer Kovacs Book Award of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies and the 2019 Michael Nelson Book Prize from the International Association for Media and History. Bright Signals is richly illustrated with many images taken from Hagley’s collections.
Accessible America: A History of Disability and Design traces the history of design responses to disability rights from 1945 to recent times. This project shows how the concept of “access” emerged as a value in design in this period. Chapters highlight the ways that prosthetics research led to expanded accessibility in the American home; how medical experts pushed for access while also putting much of the pressure on individual patients to navigate their home and work lives; and how civil rights language reshaped arguments around technology and infrastructure.
Each year, the Hagley Center organizes a conference around a theme in business history. We issue a thematic call for papers in the spring, and the resulting fall conference consists of academic presentations based on original research.
Upcoming Research Seminars
For more than twenty years Hagley’s research seminars have brought innovative work-in-progress essays for wide-ranging discussions on Thursday evenings during the academic year. Those planning to attend are encouraged to read the paper in advance as the author does not deliver a lecture. For papers, contact Carol Lockman at email@example.com or (302) 658-2400, ext. 243.
In 2015, the U.S. military spent approximately $435 million on music—nearly three times as much as the entire budget of the National Endowment for the Arts. This paper puts such an investment in historical perspective by examining the character and impact of military music-making in the United States in the last 150 years. With special attention to the ways that music by and for soldiers has enhanced military labor, it analyzes the multiple functions music has had for the military, the varied technologies through which music has been made and heard, and the social implications for using music as an instrument of warfare. Drawing on the sociology of labor, the history of emotions, and extensive archival research, this paper considers soldiers’ experiences as singers, musicians, and audiences to show how music has worked as both a tool of manipulation (of soldiers) and of self-preservation (by soldiers).
Between the 1870s and the 1930s New York City underwent a fiscal crisis approximately every twenty years. This paper examines the causes of and responses to the periodic fiscal crisis of late 19th and early 20th century New York. It argues that Gotham’s public finance policies on behalf of private real estate speculation - underassessing utility franchises, subsidizing speculative real estate development, and accruing debt for questionable public improvements – were major factors behind these crises. It examines how reformers of the period used these crises as an opportunity to present alternate fiscal policies that promised to both enhance state revenue and transform the local political economy. Ultimately, it argues that early 20th century Progressives succeeded in developing a new system of municipal revenue and expenditure that, while more stable than its predecessor, maintained the power of the private real estate and banking sectors within the city.
This paper explores why unconventional and esoteric philosophical and religious beliefs have sometimes provided the foundation for successful business enterprises over the last two hundred years, and more especially for businesses pursuing goals other than securing returns to shareholders. It will use the examples of leaders influenced by Anthroposophy, Jainism, Mormonism, and process philosophy who developed ventures with shared characteristics including a stakeholder view of capitalism, a systems-wide and holistic view of the role of business in society, a deep embedment in local community, and a broad spirituality which infused a world view.
In the decades after 1890, as large corporations run by salaried managers became a distinguishing feature of economic life, the term “business executive” joined the American lexicon. But even inside business circles it was unclear how to define “business executive” as an occupational category or what traits predicted an executive’s success. This paper examines efforts to define the new American business executive within business literature and popular discourse between 1890 and 1920. It argues that the slipperiness of the term reflected the weight it carried both as a real job and as a symbol of the new corporate order. It identifies multiple strands of masculinized identity associated with the idealized executive (engineering expertise, elite power, and shop floor fluency), and suggests that the emergence of this category during the height of the eugenics movement encouraged linking business leadership with white hypermasculinity.