OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Nan Enstad

Portrait of Nan Enstad

Nan Enstad is a professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she teaches courses on gender history, cultural history, and the history of capitalism. She is the author of Ladies of Labor, Girls of Adventure: Popular Culture and Labor Politics at the Turn of the Twentieth Century (1999) and the forthcoming book, "The Jim Crow Cigarette in China: A Cultural History of Corporate Empire." Her work examines capitalism through a cultural history approach that locates value in the daily innovations of ordinary people.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

We hear a great deal about populism since November 8, 2017 and the way that rural and small town people across the US felt left behind by the Democratic Party. In such discussions, the figure of the populist is typically figured as white and male, but is there such a thing as female populism? This talk explores how the media- and fashion-savvy figures of Ivanka Trump and Michelle Obama have variously captured the imaginations of white and black female voters who may not identify with “feminism” or the image of Hillary Clinton. It connects these identifications with populist women’s issues, especially the lack of federal childcare and family leave provisions. President Trump campaigned on the promise of a federal childcare program, developed by Ivanka, and Ivanka has begun to issue information on its shape. How do we read female populism’s import as a volatile political force and why do political commentators so often miss it?
This talk uncovers historians’ role in generating the cult of the entrepreneur by exposing the way that economist Joseph Schumpeter’s theory of destructive innovation (currently enjoying a two-decade-long comeback) became infused in the historical narrative of entrepreneurial innovation developed and promoted by Alfred Chandler, the father of business history, in his masterpiece, The Visible Hand. (Spoiler: Chandler’s application was not based in primary historical research but was ideologically imposed.) This idea of innovation placed enormous power in the prescience of a rogue entrepreneur who refuses to follow the rules of industry, is unafraid to offend, and therefore brilliantly if ruthlessly reorganizes industry according to his own vision. While this talk centers on historians’ role in creating and popularizing this figure, it also traces the cult of the entrepreneur’s migration out of historical and economic thought and into popular and political culture, culminating in our own historical moment.