OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Scott Reynolds Nelson

Portrait of Scott Reynolds Nelson

Scott Nelson is the GAA Professor of History at the University of Georgia and the author of Iron Confederacies (1999); Steel Drivin' Man (2006), which won the OAH Merle Curti Prize; and A Nation of Deadbeats: An Uncommon History of America's Financial Disasters (2012). A children's book entitled Ain't Nothing But a Man: My Quest to Find the Real John Henry (2007) is based on his research. He is a coauthor of A People at War: Civilians and Soldiers in America's Civil War (2007) and is currently working on a history of the international wheat trade, the Panic of 1873, and the Russian Revolution.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

This is about the emergence of the American branded foods industry behind the lines in the Union. Armour, Swift, Van Camp, Pillsbury and Borden all created the small, tinned can (sealed with lead) with food inside. Union soldiers consumed, sometimes bought from sutlers, sometimes from the quartermasters' corps. I show how the "manufactured food" was possible by the consolidation of railroads between Chicago and New York, and how they emerged after the war as the nation's biggest industries.
The Steel Driving legend John Henry and Confederate President Jefferson Davis were tried on the same day. One died gasping for breath, the other was pardoned.
How did a ballad about a black man who challenged a steam drill become one of the first blues songs, one of the first country songs, and the most recorded song in American history? Scott Nelson explains how a terrible crime became a folksong, and how a folksong became an American legend.
It was a terrible time: banks with bad mortgages started it, complex financial instruments prolonged it, and poor risk analysis made it seem to last forever. This was not 2008, but the Great Depression of 1873. Scott Nelson will demonstrate the eerie parallels between that six-year-plus financial crash and the 2008 downturn. Using dozens of engravings from the time, Nelson will show us the giddy highs and the scary lows of the first international Great Depression, and its lessons for today. He will also discuss the peculiar range of government responses that followed, including tariffs and militant nationalism.