OAH Distinguished Lecturer Profile

Edward E. Baptist

Portrait of Edward E. Baptist

Edward E. Baptist is a professor of history at Cornell University, where he also serves as House Professor-Dean of the Carl Becker House. He teaches about the history of slavery, the U.S. Civil War, American capitalism, and digital history and offers a service-learning course that brings American students to work in the schools of rural Jamaica. He is the author of The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism (2014), which won the OAH Avery O. Craven Award, and Creating an Old South: Middle Florida’s Plantation Frontier before the Civil War (2002). He is a coeditor, with the late Stephanie Camp, of New Studies in the History of American Slavery (2006) and, with Louis Hyman, of American Capitalism: A Reader (e-book edition 2014, paperback 2017). He is also leading a project called Freedom on the Move, a collaborative effort in digital history, with grant support from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, that is building a crowd-sourced database of fugitive slave ads.

Featured Lecture

OAH Lectures

While looking for the experiences of enslaved people caught up in the forced migrations of the domestic slave trade, I discovered something I hadn't expected to find. The records of enslavers and the formerly enslaved alike showed that cotton production on southern slave labor camps was not only profitable, but also ever-more efficient. Not only was it efficient, but it was brutal. In fact, the brutality was what made it so productive--and destructive.
Between 1789 and 1865, about one million enslaved African Americans were transported by force from the older to the newer states of the US. The majority were taken by professional slave traders. This forced migration helped create the antebellum United States and the civil war that destroyed it. It made possible the emergence of cotton empire that fed the spindles and looms of the Industrial Revolution. It was as influential in the shaping of map of U.S. history the United States and yet it isn't marked on the map.
This lecture describes the concept of a "second American Republic," born in the Civil War and Reconstruction, through the lens of the Morrill Act. The establishment of large-scale higher education in the US would have long-term consequences that shaped social, economic, and cultural development in ways that would have been impossible in the First American Republic, which was dominated by slaveholders.