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The Economics of Race

An interview with Robert Weems, Professor, History Department

For two decades Robert E. Weems, Jr. has been studying interrelated aspects of African-American business and economic history at levels both local and national. The MU professor of History observes that the history of black economic development in Columbia, Missouri, with its once-thriving black business district, stands as a microcosm of national trends. “For a variety of social and economic reasons,” he notes, “we literally see black businesses disappearing from the landscape of America.” Weems’ first book, Black Business in Black Metropolis: The Chicago Metropolitan Assurance Company, 1925-1985 (1996), based on his dissertation research, explored the factors underlying this change. The history of this now-defunct black insurance company in Chicago has implications for the economics of race in America in general.

Treasure Troves from the Past

An interview with Steven Watts, Professor, History

“That’s where it all started,” begins Steven Watts, pointing to the bust on his bookshelf. “I was born and grew up in Springfield, Illinois, in the shadow of Abraham Lincoln.” Inspired at such a young age, the MU professor of history pursued his interest in American history. Concerned with the emergence of capitalist culture, Watts’ early research explored ideas about profit, success, and “the shaping of Victorian culture in the 19th century.” About 15 years ago, however, Watts became more interested in modern American history and eventually completed a series of biographies on issues related to consumer capitalism in a culture obsessed with self-fulfillment, entertainment, and leisure.

The Eyes Have It

An interview with Mark Smith, Curators' Professor, Department of History

Pink elephants. It’s a silly image, but it’s one that Professor of History Mark Smith uses effectively to illustrate concepts in the otherwise dense material he translates. Dr. Smith works within a unique field, the history of science. There is a prominent duality in this work, as he translates medieval science into modern terms but also puts the work he translates into historical context. For the majority of his academic career, his research has concerned one single, massive editing project of The Book of Optics, which involved establishing a coherent, critical Latin text from several manuscript copies and translating it to English. The Book of Optics was written in Arabic in the eleventh century and translated to Latin in the very early thirteenth century. This work concerns not only the physical science of optics but also the philosophy behind it, which includes the process that happens when you hear or see the words “pink elephants.” Automatically, you call up a picture in your mind of a pink elephant, and that process is a key part of Dr. Smith’s work.

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