Phillip W. Magness

Historian – 19th century United States

Climate activism overshadows Shakespeare at English professor conference

| January 12, 2017

Literature took a clear back seat to ideological activism at the 2017 Modern Language Association Convention, held last weekend in Philadelphia. The annual conference is academia’s largest gathering for professors of English and foreign languages. Academic conferences of this type are usually a venue for faculty to present papers showcasing the latest research in their […]

Rehabilitating King Cotton

| December 25, 2016

Earlier this month the Chronicle of Higher Education ran a feature about an ongoing debate between economists and historians over the relationship between slavery and capitalism. While some of the divergences between the two fields are methodological, they center upon the interpretation of evidence. The historians involved are all primary players in what has been called the “New […]

An Election Day Anecdote

| November 8, 2016

Let me tell you a story about a major party’s nominee for President of the United States. It involves a candidate who had a storied political career, dating back almost three decades. This candidate held every conceivable position of importance. In addition to enjoying access to multiple presidents, our candidate was a recognized leader of a political […]

On Madjunct Activists and Article Paywalls

| September 21, 2016

Jason Brennan and I recently published an article investigating the common claim that adjuncts are “exploited.” We use a combination of empirical evidence and ethical investigation into the use of this term, and conclude that the claim does not withstand scrutiny. The article was published in the Journal of Business Ethics and is now available on […]

On New Dealer Climate Policy

| September 12, 2016

Let’s consider a thought experiment. Suppose a second Great Depression happened, and the evidence of its harm was overwhelming. Unemployment shot up to 24% and GDP dropped by almost 30%. By every sense of the imagination, the economic collapse was catastrophic. Now suppose you are confronted with the following argument: “People are suffering, so we simply have […]

Are the humanities being squeezed out of academia? The evidence says otherwise

| September 11, 2016

One of the most common narratives of the higher education literature is the claimed decline of the humanities. We are constantly told that the humanities are “under assault” in an academy that increasingly values the STEM disciplines and professional degrees over a “well rounded education.” The humanities are often cast as the victims of an […]

Are the “inequality” charts simply tracking tax code changes?

| September 7, 2016

The main historical argument made by inequality scholars such as Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman asserts that the income and wealth distributions of the United States follow a U-shaped pattern across the past 100 years. According to this narrative, the century began at very high levels of inequality. Intervening events such as the adoption […]

A Phony ‘Phocion’: Alexander Hamilton and the election of 1796

| August 20, 2016

On October 14, 1796 the Philadelphia-based Gazette of the United States newspaper ran the first of 25 “letters” that would forever change the nature of presidential campaigns. Bearing the pseudonym of the ancient Athenian orator ‘Phocion,’ the letters presented a systematic and, at times, bitterly personal argument against Thomas Jefferson’s candidacy for President of the United States. Over […]

Commie Chic & Quantifying Marx on the Syllabus

| August 15, 2016

A recent story about the prominence of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto on U.S. college syllabi has sparked a number of lively debates and discussions about the proper role of such an economically discredited yet philosophically prominent thinker in the classroom curriculum. I’m personally of the view that Marx’s intellectual contributions are severely overrated and I […]

Alexander Hamilton’s Xenophobia

| August 2, 2016

We are presently in the midst of a Hamiltonian revival. After sitting dormant for much of the 20th century, the first Secretary of the Treasury’s political program recently sprang to life in a vulgarized form through the Donald Trump campaign. While the Trump association has yet to taint Alexander Hamilton’s reputation despite their nearly identical […]