Colleen A. Dunlavy

Photo of Colleen Dunlavy


Department of History

University of Wisconsin

Madison, WI 53706

curriculum vita


I began my career as a historian of technology and a business historian but, more than a decade ago, reconceptualized myself as a historian of capitalism. This has meant broadening my take on history to encompass aspects of business history, the history of technology, labor history, legal history, environmental history, and political economy, with healthy doses of (quantitative) economic, social, and cultural history.  I see this as a revival in updated form of the "old" economic history (before the quantitative-theoretical turn). At heart I am a comparativist with special interests in the U.S. and Europe in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. My heroes include the comparative historian Marc Bloch and political economist Richard T. Ely.

A key theme motivating my research, writing, and teaching is the relationship between political and economic change—in particular, understanding the manifold ways in which government, broadly construed, has shaped economic change.  Under the rubric of "government," I think not only of policymaking (regulation and promotion) but also the legal infrastructure (specifying, e.g., property rights) and the (largely overlooked) effects of the overall structure of political institutions.

Degrees Received

B. A., University of California-Berkeley, 1980 - independent major in the history of technology

For those interested in the history of corporate research and development (R&D) or food processing (particularly, canning technology), here is a pdf copy of my senior thesis, "Food Machinery Corporation's Central Research Department: A Case Study of Research and Development, 1942-1954." I remain deeply grateful to my undergraduate advisor, Professor Richard M. Abrams, for encouraging me to turn my energies from physics to history long ago and for supporting and guiding this research. (To see what I did as a work-study student at Berkeley, click here and go to p. iii.)

Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1988 - Political Science, under the auspices of the Program in Science, Technology, and Society


Politics and Industrialization: Early Railroads in the United States and Prussia (Princeton University Press, 1994). Co-winner of the Thomas Newcomen Award for the best book published in business history in the years 1992-1994.

Articles and essays

With Thomas Welskopp (Univ. of Bielefeld), “Peculiarities and Myths: Comparing U.S. and German Capitalism”, German Historical Institute Bulletin no. 41 (Fall 2007): 33-64.

“Social Conceptions of the Corporation: Insights from the History of Shareholder Voting Rights,” Rivista delle societé, nr. 2/2007 March-April [need full details].

“Social Conceptions of the Corporation: Insights from the History of Shareholder Voting Rights.Washington and Lee Law Review, vol. 63, no. 4 (2006): 1347-1388.

"Why Did Some American Businesses Get So Big?” In Major Problems in American Business History. Edited by Regina Blaszczyk and Philip Scranton. New York: Houghton-Mifflin, 2006. pp. 257-263. (Excerpt reprinted from an article published in 1994.)

“From Citizens to Plutocrats: 19th-Century Shareholder Voting Rights and Theories of the Corporation.” In Constructing Corporate America: History, Politics, Culture, eds. Kenneth Lipartito and David Sicilia. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. Pp. 66-93.

“Bursting Through State Limits: Lessons from American Railroad History.” In The State, Regulation, and the Economy: An Historical Perspective, eds. Lars Magnusson and Jan Ottosson. Cheltenham, UK and Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar, 2002. Pp. 44-60.

Solicited articles on “technology” (4,000 words) and “railroads” (2,000 words) in The Oxford Companion to United States History. Oxford University Press, 2001.

“Corporate Democracy: Stockholder Voting Rights in Nineteenth-Century American and Prussian Railroad Corporations.” In Institutions in the Transport and Communication Industries: State and Private Actors in the Making of Institutional Patterns, 1850-1990, eds. Lena Andersson-Skog and Olle Krantz. Canton, Mass.: Science History Publications, 1999. Pp. 33-60.

“When Business Outgrows the Law: Lessons from the American Experience.” Northwestern Journal of International Affairs 1 (Spring 1999): 19-27.

“Corporate Governance in Late 19th-Century Europe and the U.S.: The Case of Shareholder Voting Rights.” In Comparative Corporate Governance: The State of the Art and Emerging Research, edited by Klaus J. Hopt, Hideki Kanda, Mark J. Roe, Eddy Wymeersch, and Stefan Prigge. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998.

“Comment l’État structure les intêréts économiques: la création d’associations nationales des chemins de fer aux États-Unis et en Prusse de 1830-1885,” Le Mouvement Social, no. 176 (July-September 1996), pp. 69-101.

“How Did American Business Get So Big?” Audacity, The Magazine of Business Experience, Spring 1994, pp. 41-49. Excerpted in The Business Journal (Milwaukee), June 18, 1994, p. 5.

“Railroads and the Transformation of Political Structures: The United States and Prussia in the Early 19th Century.” Schriftenreihe des Zentralinstituts für Fränkische Landeskunde und Allgemeine Regionalforschung, Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg, 1993.

“Political Structure, State Policy, and Industrial Change: Early Railroad Policy in the United States and Prussia.” In Structuring Politics: Historical Institutionalism in Comparative Analysis, pp. 114-54. Edited by Sven Steinmo, Kathleen Thelen, and Frank Longstreth. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

“Mirror Images: Political Structure and Early Railroad Policy in the United States and Prussia.” Studies in American Political Development 5 (Spring 1991): 1-35.

“Organizing Railroad Interests: The Creation of National Railroad Associations in the United States and Prussia.” Business and Economic History, 2d ser., 19 (1990): 133-42.

“Der ‘Vater der deutschen Eisenbahnen’ in den Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika: Friedrich List und Früheisenbahnbauweisen.” Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift der Hochschule für Verkehrswesen (Dresden), Sonderheft 54: Friedrich List - Leben und Werk (1990): 51-60.

Shareholder Democracy: The Forgotten History

This comparative study, a book project under contract with Harvard University Press, traces of changes in shareholder voting rights and in the conduct of shareholder meetings over the nineteenth century in the U.S., Britain, France, and Germany. It has entailed research in sixteen archives in the four countries. In the early nineteenth century, voting rights in corporations were relatively democratic in all four countries—that is, power was distributed relatively equally among the people who held shares in a corporation. By the 1880s, however, plutocratic voting rights, which distributed power among shareholders in proportion to their shareholdings (one vote per share), had become the norm in the U.S. In Britain and, above all, in France and Germany, restrictions on the power of large shareholders remained common. The books ends with an explanation for this striking divergence, which left the U.S. with the most democratic polity and yet the most plutocratic corporations.

"Putting the Economy Back in History"

Click here for the abstract of the paper to be presented at the Newberry Library's History of Capitalism Seminar, Chicago, March 4, 2016.

"The Unnaturalness of Mass Production: The ‘Gospel of Simplification’ in WWI and the 1920s."

How did American manufacturers suddenly come to offer the same limited variety of everyday objects in the 1920s? . . . Click here for the abstract of the paper that I presented at the Business History Conference/European Business History Association annual meeting, Miami, June 26, 2015.

[Title TBA]

A short book on the pervasive, yet largely overlooked, role of government in the history of American capitalism..

"Putting the Economy Back in History," paper to be presented to the History of Capitalism Seminar, Newberry Library, Chicago, March 4, 2016 (abstract).

Chair, session on "Gamblers: Four Periods of Stock Investment and Stock Trading" at the Business History Conference/European Business History Association annual meeting, Miami, June 26, 2015.

"The Unnaturalness of Mass Production: The 'Gospel of Simplification' in World War I and the 1920s," paper presented at the Business History Conference/European Business History Association annual meeting, Miami, June 26, 2015 (abstract).

Participant, International Conference: Thirty Years of North American Studies in France and Europe: State of the Art and Future Prospects, L'École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris, June 4-6, 2014.

Discussant, panel on "German American Entrepreneurs as Agents of Globalization 1850-1930," American Historical Association annual meeting, Washington, D.C., January 2-5, 2014

Discussant, panel on “Corporate Control and Culture,” Business History Conference annual meeting, Columbus, OH, March 23, 2013

“Plutocracy in America, 1880-1916,” paper presented in a session on “Private Wealth in American Politics” at the Organization of American Historians annual meeting, Milwaukee, April 19-22, 2012

Presenter, conference on “Capitalism in America: A History,” University of Georgia, Athens, February 18, 2012

“Federalism and American History: Insights from the History of Capitalism,” paper to be presented at the 18th International Conference of Europeanists, Barcelona, June 21, 2011

Discussant, panel on “Capturing Knowledge,” Business History Conference annual meeting, St. Louis, April 1, 2011

Chair and panelist, “Roundtable on Transnational Research Methods,” American Historical Association annual meeting, Boston, January 6-9, 2011

Panelist, “State of the Field: The History of Capitalism,” Organization of American Historians annual meeting, Washington, D.C., April 8, 2010

Chair, session on “How Relevant is the History of Capitalism?,” American Historical Association annual meeting, San Diego, January 8, 2010

“Corporations and Chain Stores: Understanding the Nuances of Federalism in the United State and Germany at the Turn of the Twentieth Century,” paper presented at the joint annual meeting of the Business History Conference and the European Business History Association, Milan, Italy, June 11, 2009