About This Conference

Eighth Annual Conference of the
Program in Early American Economy and Society
Library Company of Philadelphia
1314 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA


Seth Rockman’s recently published study, Scraping By,  brings to life the enslaved mariners, white seamstresses, Irish dockhands, free black domestic servants, and native-born street sweepers who navigated the low-end labor market in booming post-Revolutionary Baltimore. In the city’s variegated workforce, race, age, family structure, and gender were crucial markers of economic opportunity and vulnerability.  Baltimore’s emergent capitalism also featured many slaves earning wages and white workers performing arduous labor for inadequate pay.

Rockman analyzes the material experiences of these workers, how they found work, translated labor into food, fuel, and rent, and navigated underground economies and social welfare systems. He also explores what happened when they failed to find work or lost their jobs, and how an urban working class emerged from these everyday struggles. His rich accounts of day laborers and domestic servants illuminate the history of early republic capitalism and its consequences for working families.

Rockman’s study is a powerful addition to scholarship about the hidden labor of capitalist economies where the unpaid and mundane, but vital, tasks of sewing, washing, feeding, provisioning, and boarding provide the material infrastructure for rapid economic development.

This conference will feature a discussion of these themes from Scraping By.  Three thirty-minute presentations will be made by distinguished historians, followed by Seth Rockman’s  response and what promises to be a lively audience discussion. 

A copy of Scraping By can be purchased at: