Author: spirofas-harvard-edu

The Age of Questions: An Interview with Holly Case

“The book’s cover is based loosely on a patch of wallpaper in a rented apartment. While thinking about the age of questions and staring at the wallpaper, the design began to suggest the book’s structure. As the several threads come together and push apart, sometimes the light makes the pattern they describe flash out all the more clearly. And how apt that it’s wallpaper, because the idea was to see the patterns that emerge after staring long and hard at something that otherwise appears only as background.” –Holly Case

In The Age of Questions (Princeton University Press, 2018), historian Holly Case (Brown University) presents seven interpretations of the many “questions” of the long nineteenth century—the Eastern, Social, Woman, American, Jewish, Polish, Bullion, and Tuberculosis Questions, among others.

Previous historians have questioned the reality of several such “x questions,” demonstrating, for example, how bourgeois nationalists sought to impose the categories of nation on people often unaccustomed or resistant to thinking in such terms. Holly Case sets herself a more ambitious task. She seeks to understand why nineteenth-century actors frequently framed political matters as “x questions”, what thinking in “x questions” served to do and collectively inclined toward, and how the many “x questions” were entangled across regions and domains of life.

Case’s work enables us to more forthrightly confront how current questions, scholarly and popular, are interpolated with the “x questions” of the long nineteenth century. In offering half a dozen distinct interpretations, internally coherent yet sometimes conflicting, she introduces a novel mode of writing history. It is a book ideally composed to provoke questions and invite common debate in today’s “age of fracture.”

Liat Spiro (Harvard University/College of the Holy Cross)

Global Histories of Neoliberalism: An Interview with Quinn Slobodian

Liat Spiro recently sat down with Quinn Slobodian in Cambridge, MA to discuss his new book, Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism (Harvard University Press, 2018).

Slobodian, associate professor of history at Wellesley College and currently ACLS Burkhardt Fellow at the Weatherhead Initiative on Global History at Harvard University, revealed how neoliberal thinkers developed a vision of global free trade in goods and capital, though not necessarily people, during the crises of the 1930s and the era of decolonization. In Globalists, he argues that neoliberal thinkers did not oppose the state and prize individualism, but rather sought to use rules to encase the market away from democratic governance.

The discussion also presented a chance to explore neoliberals’ interpretations of the nexus between law and economics as well as current debates over the significance of racism to neoliberal thought. Slobodian explained the role of Central Europe in the global history of neoliberalism and the legacy of the Habsburg Empire for neoliberals’ understanding of political economy. Slobodian addressed the critical conflation of neoliberalism, economism, and pretensions to all-knowability in the recent historiography of the “invention of the economy.”

Over the course of this conversation about economists’ and historians’ “trust in numbers,” or lack thereof, Slobodian proposed reviving leftist and heterodox economics. Looking ahead, he presented steps for writing global histories of neoliberalism beyond Globalists, tracing the unpredictable, highly transnational, and strongly contested circuits through which economic concepts get taken up into policymaking.

The interview is illustrated by stills from The Walls of the WTO, a collaborative film project by Slobodian and the filmmaker Ryan S. Jeffery. The film will appear in the exhibition Say Shibboleth! On Visible and Invisible Borders, opening at the Jewish Museum Hohenems in April 2018.

Liat Spiro (Harvard University)