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July 26, 2015 at 8:01 am

Osborne Wins Columbia University’s Bancroft Award

Nicholas Osborne

Nicholas Osborne

The Department of History is pleased to share the news that Dr. Nicholas Osborne, Visiting Assistant Professor of History at Ohio University, has been awarded the prestigious Bancroft Dissertation Award from Columbia University, his degree-granting institution.

The Bancroft Dissertation Award is given annually to the best Columbia University dissertation from any department in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences that displays “exceptional importance and originality in the areas of American history, biography, diplomacy, or international relations.” While the award committee sometimes names two co-winners in a given year, Osborne was the sole winner for 2014. The award comes with a $7,500 publishing subvention to aid in converting the dissertation into a book.

Titled “Little Capitalists: The Social Economy of Saving in the United States, 1816-1914,” Osborne’s dissertation was filed in May 2014 under the supervision of Drs. Eric Foner (chair), Elizabeth Blackmar, David Weiman, Anders Stephanson and Richard John. The project explores how ideas about the proper way for wage earners to save money influenced the development of US financial institutions, the relationship between government and the economy, and the social function of economics in the century after 1815. According to Osborne, “reformers who first sought to foster working-class saving did so to minimize the damage of poverty in an unstable economy. At the same time, workers utilized savings banks to gain financial independence as they became reliant on wage labor.” “Little Capitalists” shows how saving thus integrated workers into the nation’s economy as investors, if indirect ones. As the savings industry grew economically, however, so too did its sociopolitical role increase: the Freedmen’s Bank encouraged former slaves to embrace free labor; school savings curricula taught students to be thrifty citizens; temperance advocates portrayed saving as rejecting vice; employers created industrial savings programs to promote worker loyalty. Through such initiatives, Osborne argues, “savings ideology and practice interacted to influence the financiers, policymakers, and savings depositors who created the financial apparatus that funded the expansion of wage-labor capitalism—in large part by harnessing the capital of wage laborers themselves. In the process, they blurred the political and cultural lines between economic interest and social value.” Put simply, evidence of widespread saving became a tool that proponents of capitalism used to defend economic policy in the name of social progress, falsely suggesting that general economic growth was the same as universal economic opportunity.

Osborne earned a Ph.D. from the Department of History at Columbia University in May 2014. He joined the History Department of Ohio University at the beginning of the 2014-15 academic year as a visiting assistant professor, teaching a variety of courses related to his specialization of nineteenth-century US history while the department’s Dr. Brian Schoen was on research leave:

  • HIST 2000: Survey of American History, 1600-1877
  • HIST 3000: Atlantic History
  • HIST 3018: The American South to 1900
  • HIST 3020: Survey of Native American History
  • HIST 3081: The Civil War & Its Aftermath
  • HIST 3170: Survey of Ohio History

He is next scheduled to offer “HIST 3170: Survey of Ohio History” in Spring 2016.

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