Final Public Oral Exam: Jonathan Quann

Final Public Oral Examination
Event date: 
May 21, 2019 - 10:00am
Seminar Series: 
Final Public Oral Exam

Ships of States: Global Shipping, the Emergency Fleet Corporation, and the Business of American Government, 1870-1930


Julian Zelizer, adviser
Hendrik Hartog
Harold James
Jonathan Levy, University of Chicago


In the United States, the First World War saw a sudden convergence of two unrelated trends: the declining fortunes of American commercial shipping and a recent institutional revolution in state-building known as the government-owned corporation. This dissertation explores this unlikely convergence that was welded together by war. The first argument is that global shipping was not only a major technological driver of the first era of globalization, but a central concern of American policymakers and public opinion before, during, and after the war for reasons of national and economic security. The second argument is that much of what we know about the administrative development of the American state is incomplete, particularly in the areas of political economy, and national and international trade and transportation. The war created a unique and wholly unexpected environment for experimentation and expansion in which the federal government tapped into the recently developed institutional prototype of the government corporation to create what admirers and critics alike declared the world’s largest industrial organization, the Emergency Fleet Corporation. Tracking the origins, development, and controversial deterioration of this experiment provides important insights into changing perceptions about the federal government’s role as not only regulator but entrepreneur in a market system. The corporation demonstrated the difficulty of sustaining both long–term policy objectives and independence from politics. Combining geopolitical expediency and psychological palatability, the corporation struggled to make increased state participation in the economy acceptable from different ideological perspectives, a moderate path that strained to avoid firm ideological or political commitments.

A copy of the dissertation will be available for review two weeks before the exam in the History Graduate Student Lounge: 105 Dickinson Hall.

All are welcome and encouraged to attend.