Critical Historical Studies is a project dedicated to renewing and deepening critical understandings of history, culture, economy, social life, and politics. It has developed as a response to the massive global transformations of recent decades, which seem to call for sustained attention to the complex interrelations between the social, economic, political, and cultural dimensions of the historical universe. Against this background, CHS is also a response to recent trends within the humanities and social sciences, which we feel have shown themselves to be inadequate to the task of grasping these transformations. CHS expresses our sense that we need a new approach in critical thought.
It seems increasingly clear that central problems of the contemporary world -- including the nature of neoliberalism and the increasing importance of financialization, the threat of ecological crises, widening economic inequality, and radical transformations in the nature of labor and the structure of employment, with their consequences for issues of gender, race, class, and ethnicity -- cannot be grasped adequately without renewed attention to questions of political economy. This, in turn, strongly suggests an engagement with capitalism – understood not simply as a system of economic exploitation, or as a meta-narrative, but as a historically specific social form, associated with determinate cultural and political forms, and which is characterized by an ongoing dynamic that produces a form of temporal heteronomy.
Far from advocating a return to the sort of economistic and developmental thinking criticized by various post-Marxist approaches, Critical Historical Studies regards various cultural forms, social movements, and political struggles as interwoven with specific epochs of capitalism’s history, and encourages systematic explorations of relations between cultural and political changes and overarching socioeconomic transformations.
The journal, then, considers itself to be in the tradition of historically reflexive critical approaches to historical context – such as those articulated by Marx and members of the Frankfurt School -- and regards a critical theory of capitalism to be the most promising approach to understanding our context. At the same time, we open our pages to scholars and intellectuals working within the framework of other critical approaches in the hope that, together, we can contribute to the constitution of a renewed critical public sphere.
We are convinced that important work in critical history is currently being produced not only by professional historians but by scholars in many social science and humanities disciplines. Critical Historical Studies aims to foster interdisciplinary exchange among scholars across the widest range of fields, and publishes work on all historical eras and regions of the world. We are particularly interested in work that explores the complex connections between cultural form and socio-economic context and that promotes a reflexive awareness of the researcher’s own position in the history of global capitalist society.
William H. Sewell, Jr. is the Frank P. Hixon Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Political Science and History. He is a Resident Fellow of the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory. Long interested in the intersection between history and social theory, his most recent book, Logics of History: Social Theory and Social Transformation, won an award in 2008 from the American Sociological Association for the best recent book in sociological theory. Most of his historical work has been on the social and cultural history of modern France. His books include Work and Revolution in France: The Language of Labor from the Old Regime to 1848; Structure and Mobility: The Men and Women of Marseille, 1820–1870; and A Rhetoric of Bourgeois Revolution: The Abbé Sieyes and What is the Third Estate? He is currently working on the social and cultural history of capitalism in eighteenth century France, but also makes occasional forays into the history of contemporary capitalism. In 2004, Professor Sewell was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He has served a Trustee of the Institute for Advanced Study and was President of the Social Science History Association in 2011-12.
Andrew Sartori is a historian at New York University who studies the relationship between histories of concept-formation and the histories of capitalist society. His work lies at the intersections of the history of political economy, the history of political thought, intellectual history, modern South Asian history, British imperial history and social theory. His books include Bengal in Global Concept History: Culturalism in the Age of Capital (Chicago, 2008); (coedited with Samuel Moyn) Global Intellectual History (New York, 2013); and Liberalism in Empire: An Alternative History (Berkeley, 2014).
Judit Bodnar is a sociologist teaching at the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology at the Central European University in Budapest. Author of Fin de Millénaire Budapest (Minnesota) and co-editor of Critical Urban Studies Reader (L’Harmattan, Budapest) she has written about cities, public space, globalization, urban theory and change, comparisons, and the politics of food. Her general interests lie in the interaction of history and social theory, and understanding the variegated articulations of global capitalism and modernity.
Jonathan Levy is a professor of US History at the University of Chicago. His research concerns economic life in the United States, with interests in the relationships between business and economic history, political economy, legal history, and the history of ideas. His books include Freaks of Fortune: The Emerging World of Capitalism and Risk in America (Harvard, 2012), a history of risk in the United States and the forthcoming interpretive history of US capitalism, Ages of American Capitalism, which narrates American economic life from British colonial settlement to the great recession of 2008.
The CHS Managing Editor is Stacie Anne Kent. She is an Assistant Professor in History and International Studies at Boston College. Her research and teaching focus on global capitalism in imperial and post-colonial contexts. Her current book project, “Colonial Capital” re-examines interactions between globalizing capitalism and governance in the Late Qing Empire.
Parker Everett is the Assistant Managing Editor. He is an Assistant Teaching Professer at the Department of Humanities and Arts at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. He received his Ph.D. in Modern European History from The University of Chicago in December 2012. His book manuscript on the form, function, and perception of Greater Berlin from 1900 to 1933 is under review with The University of Toronto Press. .