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, 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 latest book, Banking on Slavery: Financing Southern Expansion in the Antebellum United States, examines the critical role played by southern banks in supporting and promoting the system of slavery on the frontier, particularly through the use of enslaved lives as loan collateral. This project has been supported by fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and numerous archival research grants.


Banking on Slavery: Financing Southern Expansion in the Antebellum United States, University of Chicago Press, 2023. Winner of the 2024 Ralph Gomory Prize of the Business History Conference. Winner of the 2023 Kemper and Leila Williams Prize in Louisiana History. Finalist for the 2024 Hagley Prize for the best book in business history.

Other People’s Money: How Banking Worked in the Early American Republic, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017.

Anglo-American Life Insurance, 1800-1914 (co-edited with Timothy Alborn), Pickering & Chatto, 2013 [paperback Routledge, 2016].

Investing in Life: Insurance in Antebellum America, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010 [paperback 2013]. Winner of the 2012 Hagley Prize for the best book in business history.

Selected Articles, Book Chapters, and Cases

“How to Define (or Not to Define) the New History of Capitalism,” for a forum in Enterprise & Society: The International Journal of Business History, v. 25, no. 1, March 2024 (online November 2023): 49-53.

“Enslaved Financing of Southern Industry: The Nesbitt Manufacturing Company of South Carolina, 1836-1850,” Enterprise & Society: The International Journal of Business History, v. 23, no. 3, September 2022 (online February 2021): 746-789.

“Gone to Texas: Deadbeat Debtors and their Human Property,” Journal of the Texas Supreme Court Historical Society, v. 11, no. 2, Winter 2022: 27-43.

“The Financialization of Slavery by the First and Second Banks of the United States,” Journal of Southern History, v. 87, no. 3, August 2021: 385-426.

“Collateral Damage: The Impact of Foreclosure on Enslaved People during the Panic,” for a Forum on the Panic of 1819 in The Journal of the Early Republic, v. 40, no. 4, Winter 2020: 691-696.

“Agents, Regulations, and Scandals: US Life Insurance Companies in Late-Nineteenth-Century Latin America,” in Risk and the Insurance Business in History, Robin Pearson and Jeronía Pons Pons (eds.), Fundación Mapfre, 2020: 61-89. Winner of the Mansutti Foundation Best Paper Prize.

“Financing Faith: Latter-day Saints and Banking in the 1830s and 1840s,” in Business and Religion: The Intersection of Faith and Finance, Matthew C. Godfrey and Michael Hubbard MacKay (eds.), Brigham Young University Press, 2019.

“The Panic of 1819 and the Second Bank of the United States,” (co-authored with Robert Bruner), Darden Business School case, July 2018.

“The Myth and Reality of Andrew Jackson’s Rise during the Election of 1824,” in A Companion to the Era of Andrew Jackson, Sean Patrick Adams (ed.), Blackwell Publishing, 2013: 260-279.

“Banks and Banking in the Early American Republic,” History Compass, Blackwell Publishing, 2012: 409-422.

“How to Make a Dead Man: Murder, Fraud and Life Insurance in 19th-century America,” Financial History, Kristin Aguilera (ed.), Museum of American Finance, Spring 2010.

“‘Doomed…to Eat the Bread of Dependency’? Insuring the Middle Class Against Hard Times,” Common-place, Michael Zakim (ed.), American Antiquarian Society, April 2010.

“Selecting Risks in an Anonymous World: The Agency System for Life Insurance in Antebellum America” Business History Review, Spring 2008: 1-30.

“Securing Human Property: Slavery, Life Insurance, and Industrialization in the Upper South,” The Journal of the Early Republic, v. 25, Winter 2005: 615-652.

“The Advertising of Installment Plans During the 1920s,” in Turning Points in World History – The Roaring Twenties, Phillip Margulies (ed.). San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2004.

Detailed CV
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