Doc Chat Episode Twenty-One: Slavery and Capitalism in the Archives

By Julie Golia, Associate Director, Manuscripts, Archives, and Rare Books and Charles J. Liebman Curator of Manuscripts
April 13, 2021
Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

On March 18, 2021, Doc Chatters explored the deep connections between slavery and capitalism hiding in plain sight in the archival records of Northern banking institutions. 

Brown Brothers Ledger

Brown Brothers & Company Ledger, New Orleans Office: 1844-1846; NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID: 57733027

weekly series from NYPL's Center for Research in the Humanities, Doc Chat pairs a NYPL curator or specialist and a scholar to discuss evocative digitized items from the Library's collections and brainstorm innovative ways of teaching with them. In Episode Twenty-One, NYPL's Matt Knutzen and NYU Professor Tom Augst probed the archives of Brown Brothers & Company and revealed the hands-on role that the financial firm played in managing one Southern plantation.

Doc Chat Episode 21: Slavery and Capitalism in the Archives from The New York Public Library on Vimeo.

A transcript of this event is available here.

Below are some handy links to materials and sources suggested in the episode.

Episode Twenty-One: Primary Sources 

Matt and Tom examined details from this page of the Brown Brothers & Company Records, held in the Manuscripts and Archives Division at the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. A transcription of this page is available here. Explore the full run of digitized materials from the Brown Brothers & Company Records on NYPL's Digital Collections here

Take a look at the finding aid for this collection here

Episode Twenty-One: Readings and Resources

Sven Beckert,  Empire of Cotton: A Global History (Knopf, 2014).

John Crosby Brown, A Hundred Years of Merchant Banking: A History of Brown Brothers and Company (Brown, Shipley & Company and the Allied Firms, 1909).

John R. Killick, "The Cotton Operations of Alexander Brown and Sons in the Deep South, 1820-1860." The Journal of Southern History, 43: 2 (May 1977), 169-194.

Caitlin Rosenthal, Accounting for Slavery: Masters and Management (Harvard University Press, 2018).

Get Involved: Transcribe the Brown Brothers Collection

The New York Public Library is collaborating with a team of New York University faculty and graduate students in an ongoing digital humanities project that will transform images of the financial ledgers into a dataset that can be used for research and teaching. 

The project invites public participation to help transcribe sets of pages from the Brown Brothers & Company ledgers. This will create training data that can teach computer algorithms to read handwriting. To receive updates or help transcribe, please visit The Brown Brothers Collection Project and click Sign Up.

Join the Doc Chat Conversation

Doc Chat episodes take place on Zoom every Thursday at 3:30 PM.  Over the next several months, we are covering a range of topics: visual culture in 19th-century Mexico, Zine-making,  the history of New York City tenements, Russian propaganda posters, and much more.

Check out upcoming episodes on NYPL's calendar,  and make sure you don't miss an episode by signing up for NYPL's Research newsletter, which will include links to register. A video of each episode will be posted on the Research Channel of the NYPL blog shortly after the program. There you can also explore videos and resources for past episodes. See you at the next Doc Chat!