Friday, September 24, 2010

Historian Puts America's Current Economic Woes in Context with Past Crashes and Crises

CHESTERTOWN, MD—Historian Scott Reynolds Nelson, author of a forthcoming book on America’s history of financial implosions and collapses, will put the current one in perspective when he visits Washington College Thursday, October 7. In a 7:30 p.m. talk in Litrenta Lecture Hall, Toll Science Center, Nelson will illustrate how issues torn from today’s newspapers—mortgage meltdowns, easy credit, insider trading—are hallmarks of almost every American financial disaster over the last two centuries. “Crash: A History of America’s Financial Disasters” will compare the recent economic crisis and its lingering effects to crises that came before, including the Great Depression, the Panic of 1873, and the lesser-known crashes of the 19th century.

“As we continue picking up the pieces from the latest crash, we’re all looking to understand what happened,” said Adam Goodheart, Hodson Trust-Griswold Director of the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, a co-sponsor of the event. “Scott Nelson offers the long view, reminding us that previous generations have weathered similar experiences, drawing from them lessons that might be valuable for our own age.”

Scott Reynolds Nelson is Legum Professor of History at the College of William & Mary, and is spending the academic year 2010-11 as a Charles Warren Fellow at Harvard University. He is the author of several books on American history, including Iron Confederacies: Southern Railways, Klan Violence, and Reconstruction (University of North Carolina Press, 1999) and the award-winning Steel Drivin’ Man: John Henry, the Untold Story of an American Legend (Oxford University Press, 2006). Singer Bruce Springsteen applauded Steel Drivin’ Man as “a tribute and requiem to the real steel drivin’ men who built this country.”

Nelson is also the author of Ain’t Nothing But a Man, a book on John Henry for young adult readers, co-authored with Marc Aronson. As a scholar and writer, he is known for his ability to trace the interconnections between economics, politics, and culture.

Nelson’s new book, Crash: An Uncommon History of America's Financial Disasters, is under contract with Alfred A. Knopf. The project began with an October 2008 article about the Panic of 1873, “The Real Great Depression,” which predicted that the current crisis would more closely resemble the 1873 disaster than the 1929 one. The article was first published in the Chronicle of Higher Education and later translated and published in six languages.

Scott Nelson’s October 7 presentation is free and open to the public. It is co-sponsored by the Department of Business Management at Washington College.

About the C.V. Starr Center

The C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience explores our nation’s history – and particularly the legacy of its Founding era – in innovative ways. Through educational programs, scholarship, and public outreach, and especially by supporting and fostering the art of written history, the Starr Center seeks to bridge the divide between past and present, and between the academic world and the public at large. From its base in the circa-1746 Custom House along Chestertown’s colonial waterfront, the Center also serves as a portal onto a world of opportunities for Washington College students. For more information on the Center and on the Patrick Henry Fellowships, visit

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