Jonathan Levy

Professor of US History, Fundamentals, and the College

Social Science Research Building., room 504 – Office
(773) 702-8369 – Office telephone
(773) 702-7550 – Fax

I am a historian of 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.  My research and teaching span the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and are increasingly preoccupied with global and comparative questions.

I am currently at work on a number of projects. The first is an interpretive history of US capitalism, Ages of American Capitalism, which is forthcoming from Random House. The book narrates American economic life from British colonial settlement to the Great Recession.

Another project is a history of the relationship between corporations and profit in the United States.  I am interested in the accounting history of the category profit.  Preliminary work on this topic can be found in:

"Accounting for Profit and the History of Capital." Critical Historical Studies 1, No. 2 (Fall 2014): 171–214.

I am also exploring how and why corporations, long defined with respect to property and sovereignty, had their personalities redefined in relationship to profit (for profit or nonprofit) in the late nineteenth-century United States, as well in tracing the subsequent dynamics among for profits, nonprofits, and the fiscal state across the twentieth century.  Two recent pieces on this topic can be found here:

“From Fiscal Triangle to Passing Through: Rise of the Nonprofit Corporation,” in Naomi Lamoreaux and William Novak eds., Corporations and American Democracy (forthcoming, Cambridge University Press).

“Altruism and the Origins of Nonprofit,” in Lucy Bernholtz, Chiara Cordelli, and Rob Reich, eds., Philanthropy in Democratic Societies: History, Norms, Institutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016).

Finally, I am beginning to work on the history of global investment after WWII.  I draw out the significance of this topic in this recent review.

“Stuck in a Gilded Age,” Dissent (Summer 2016).

My first book, Freaks of Fortune: The Emerging World of Capitalism and Risk in America (Harvard, 2012), is a history of risk in the United States. The book has a dual focus, tracing the simultaneous rise, in the context of slave emancipation, of a new individualist creed that equated freedom with risk-taking and a new corporate financial system of risk management. Freaks of Fortune won the Organization of American Historians' Frederick Jackson Turner Award, Ellis W. Hawley Prize, and Avery O. Craven Award and the American Society for Legal History's William Nelson Cromwell Book Prize.