Trading Spaces: The Colonial Marketplace and the Foundations of American Capitalism (American Beginnings, 1500-1900)
When we talk about the economy, “the market” is often just an abstraction. While the exchange of goods was historically tied to a particular place, capitalism has gradually eroded this connection to create our current global trading systems. In Trading Spaces, Emma Hart argues that Britain’s colonization of North America was a key moment in the market’s shift from place to idea, with major consequences for the character of the American economy.
Hart’s book takes in the shops, auction sites, wharves, taverns, fairs, and homes of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century America—places where new mechanisms and conventions of trade arose as Europeans re-created or adapted continental methods to new surroundings. Since those earlier conventions tended to rely on regulation more than their colonial offspring did, what emerged in early America was a less fettered brand of capitalism. By the nineteenth century this had evolved into a market economy that would not look too foreign to contemporary Americans. To tell this complex transnational story of how our markets came to be, Hart looks back farther than most historians of US capitalism, rooting these markets in the norms of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Britain. Perhaps most important, this is not a story of specific commodity markets over time but rather is a history of the trading spaces themselves: the physical sites in which the grubby work of commerce occurred and where the market itself was born.
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