Jonathan Levy

Assistant Professor of History

Princeton University

Jonathan Levy is a historian of American capitalism, with a particular focus upon the long nineteenth-century. In addition to business and economic history, he also has interests in cultural and intellectual history, and the histories of slavery and freedom. He holds a B.A. from Yale University and a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. Levy has held fellowships from, among other sources, the Mellon Foundation, the Council on Library and Information Resources, and the American Council of Learned Societies.  In 2009-2010 he was a resident fellow at the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress.

Professor Levy’s first book, Freaks of Fortune: The Emerging World of Capitalism and Risk in America is forthcoming from Harvard University Press in 2012. A history of risk in nineteenth-century America, the book unearths the moral and economic origins of the modern American financial system. It shows how and why nineteenth-century Americans turned to financial markets to hedge their already commercial lives, and argues that this development marked a significant transformation of American capitalism, and a great experiment of classical, nineteenth-century liberalism.  Freaks of Fortune has a dual focus, tracing the simultaneous rise of both a new individualist creed that equated freedom with risk-taking and a new corporate financial system of risk management.

Levy’s next project, The Corporate History of the Profit Motive, will continue to investigate the relationship between norms and institutions in American economic life. It will trace, in the period 1850-1950, the simultaneous emergence of a new normative division of labor between “the profit motive” and “altruism,” and a new institutional division of labor between the for-profit and nonprofit corporate forms.

Professor Levy offers a regular undergraduate lecture course at Princeton on the history of American capitalism. He also teaches an undergraduate seminar on the history of the corporation, and the graduate seminar “Capitalist Transformations.” In future years he plans to develop an undergraduate course on capitalism and its critics.

His select publications include “Contemplating Delivery: Futures Trading and the Problem of Commodity Exchange in the United States, 1875-1905,” American Historical Review (2006); “’The Mortgage Worked the Hardest’: The Fate of Landed Independence in 19th-Century America,” in Gary J. Kornblith and Michael Zakim, eds., For Purposes of Profit: Essays on Capitalism in 19th-Century America (2012); “The Freaks of Fortune: Moral Responsibility for Booms and Busts in 19th-century America,” Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era (2011).