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Sharon Ann Murphy


Contact Information:


Ruane Center for the Humanities 116


Ph.D. - University of Virginia

Area(s) of Expertise:

My ultimate goal as a historian is a better understanding of the nineteenth-century world by looking through the lens of institutions that intimately affected the lives of everyday people, just as those people – in turn – shaped the development of those institutions. I am particularly interested in the complex interactions between financial institutions and their clientele. I focus on understanding why financial institutions emerged, how they were marketed to and received by the public, and what the reciprocal relations were between the institutions and the community at large. My first book, Investing in Life: Insurance in Antebellum America (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010; paperback 2013; winner of the 2012 Hagley Prize for the best book in business history), considers the creation and expansion of the American life insurance industry from its early origins in the 1810s through the 1860s, and examines how its growth paralleled and influenced the emergence of the middle class. My current book project examines the relationship between banks and slavery, particularly the use of enslaved people as a loan collateral. Commercial bank involvement with slave property occurred throughout the antebellum period and across the South. The use of the enslaved as collateral, and the readiness of banks to foreclose on this property, placed southern banking institutions at the heart of the buying and selling of slave property, one of the most reviled aspects of the slave system. My 2018-2019 sabbatical to research this project is being supported by a fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS).

Selected Publications:

Murphy, S. (2017) Other People's Money: How Banking Worked in the Early American Republic. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press

Murphy, S. Alborn, T. (2013) Anglo-American Life Insurance, 1800-1914. London: Pickering & Chatto

Murphy, S. (2010) Investing in Life: Insurance in Antebellum America. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press

Murphy, S. (2008) Selecting Risks in an Anonymous World: The Agency System for Life Insurance in Antebellum America. Business History Review.

Murphy, S. (2005) Securing Human Property: Slavery, Life Insurance, and Industrialization in the Upper South. Journal of the Early Republic.

Selected Presentations:

Murphy, S. International Conference on Risk and the Insurance Business in History. , Seville, Spain - "Going Global: Life Insurance Risks around the World, 1880-1910" June, 2019

Murphy, S. Society for Historians of the Early American Republic. , Cleveland, OH - "Slavery and the Second Bank of the United States" July, 2018

Murphy, S. Business History Conference. , Baltimore, MD - "Free Banking in Louisiana during the 1850s" April, 2018

Murphy, S. Symposium on Mormon History. , Brigham Young University - "Keynote Address: Business, Wealth, Enterprise, and Debt: The Economic Side of Mormon History, 1830-1930" March, 2018

Murphy, S. Histories of Capitalism, 2.0. , Cornell University - "Bank Financing of Slavery during the 1840s and 1850s" October, 2016

Murphy, S. Connecticut Supreme Court Historical Society. , Hartford, CT - "Keynote Address: How to Make a Dead Man: Murder, Suicide, and Insurance Fraud in Nineteenth-Century New England" May, 2016

Murphy, S. Southern Historical Association. , Atlanta, GA - "The New History of Capitalism and Southern History" November, 2014

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