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"Nationitis?" Analytical Imprecisions in Mercantilism, Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations," and the Current International Culture of Capitalism

Date & Time:
August 31, 2015 | 2:00 pm - 4:00 pm
Biological Sciences Building 587A
Fabio López Lázaro 

One of the key imprecisions of today's international culture of modern capitalism and of its precursor and originator, the early modern economic and political system known as mercantilism, arises from the comparative analysis of human wealth and poverty in terms of nations or nation-states. In this talk I explore this imprecision as a phenomenon worth isolating and analyzing historically. I argue that it began with the founding of the first mercantilist trans-maritime jurisdiction (the so-called "Spanish Empire" invented as a legal institution in 1503), reached maturity in the anti-mercantilist discourse of Adam Smith's 1776 "Wealth of Nations," and finally culminated in our current international capitalistic culture of national competitiveness. The aim of this research is to clarify how this phenomenon of "nationitis" has obscured realities of wealth and poverty increasingly globalized by sub-national and supra-national political-economic networks  entangling the world since the 1500s. The repeated imprecise uses of national labels over time has created a particular habit that obscures historical contexts. Mapping "nationitis" reveals a close relationship between what has been called capitalism, the rise of philosophies of political economy (both mercantilist and anti-mercantilist), and the historiographical endeavour commonly known as comparative world history.

Fabio López Lázaro was raised in Spain until his parents, who were active in the anti-Franco movement, immigrated to Canada as political exiles. López Lázaro received an M.A. in Middle Eastern and Islamic history at Simon Fraser University under the guidance of William Cleveland, the historian of modern Arab nationalism. He went on to study medieval and early modern history with Jocelyn Hillgarth, Joseph Shatzmiller, and William Callahan at the University of Toronto and the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies (Ph.D., 1996). López Lázaro has taught World, Mediterranean, European, Latin American, Middle Eastern, and Islamic History at Stanford, Arizona State, Calgary, and Santa Clara universities. He was presented with the University of Calgary Students' Union Teaching Excellence Award in 2000 and with Santa Clara University's Research Excellence Award in 2011. López Lázaro's research publications focus on legal, political, and maritime world history between 1300 and 1700. His most recent book, The Misfortunes of Alonso Ramírez: The True Adventures of a Spanish American with 17th Century Pirates (University of Texas Press, 2011), proves that what was believed to be the New World's oldest novel--published in Mexico City in 1690--is in fact not a fiction at all but an eyewitness account of how imperialists and pirates tangled from Asia through Latin America to Europe. López Lázaro's interest in global and maritime history started at an early age and during his twenties he studied sailing and navigation in the Pacific with Captain James Cook (alas, not the famous eighteenth-century one!).


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