Event—Scholarly Seminars

Minseok Jang, SUNY Albany, and Alastair Su, Westmont College


Kerosene Consumers and the Antitrust Movement Against Standard Oil, Minseok Jang, SUNY Albany

As it dominated the kerosene market in the late-nineteenth century, Standard Oil revolutionized the price and quality of oil, stimulating a belief that industrial combination might benefit consumers. In the 1900s, however, kerosene consumers emerged as fierce opponents of monopoly and urged the government to protect competition. This essay argues that kerosene consumers’ political stance was derived from a middle-class consciousness that made them feel a social and cultural familiarity with independent oil producers who struggled with Standard Oil. This paper examines how such consciousness evolved from a consumer culture nurtured by kerosene users and home economists (not only related to lighting but also cleaning, cooking, planting, refurbishing, and washing) and how it was politically utilized by antitrust reformers such as Ida Tarbell.

From Silver to Opium: Thomas Handasyd Perkins and the China Trade, 1804-1830, Alastair Su, Westmont College

During the War of 1812, the reputation of Massachusetts merchant Thomas Perkins (1764-1854) came under severe attack. Over the course of the war, Perkins’s critics accused him of undermining his own country by exporting millions of silver dollars during war with Britain. Succumbing to such pressure, Perkins switched his business model from exporting silver to exporting Turkey opium to China. Where scholars have foregrounded the pecuniary motivations of Perkins and other American merchants for investing in the controversial drug trade to China, I argue for the primacy of politics.

Respondent: Daniel Immerwahr