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Howard N. Bodenhorn, associate professor of economics and business at Lafayette, has been awarded a $65,227 grant from the National Science Foundation for research on the economic consequences of race in the antebellum South.

The grant will fund study for a book-length manuscript on the economic condition of free African Americans living in the antebellum United States. It also will result in numerous articles submitted to leading scholarly journals in economics and economic history.

Bodenhorn launched the project’s preliminary work this summer with the assistance of Lafayette student Shivani Malhotra, a junior economics and business major from Bangalore, India. Malhotra was a participant in Lafayette’s EXCEL Scholars program, in which students collaborate closely with faculty on research projects while earning a stipend.

“Historians have considered many of the same topics I plan to analyze, but their limited economic training has not permitted them to exploit the census or other data in a systematic way,” says Bodenhorn. “Moreover, historians tend to focus on a particular place, such as African Americans in New Orleans or Savannah, or on a particular period, such as the post-Revolutionary era, without providing much insight into how or to what extent the population under consideration is representative of the whole. By using a nationally representative sample, my project avoids problems of inference from unrepresentative and small samples.”

Bodenhorn, a Lafayette faculty member since 1993, is an expert in American economic and financial history, law, and economics, and industrial organization. He is author of A History of Banking in Antebellum America: Financial Markets and Economic Development in an Age of Nation Building, published last year by Cambridge University Press. He conducted research for the book under a major grant from the John M. Olin Foundation.

A new book, State Banking in Early America: A New Economic History, is scheduled for publication this year by Oxford University Press. Bodenhorn has also published more than 30 papers in peer-reviewed academic journals and serves on the editorial board of the journal Explorations in Economic History. He has given 10 presentations at academic conferences and seminars since September 1999.

Bodenhorn actively involves Lafayette students in his research. Besides engaging EXCEL Scholars, in each year since 1996 he has served as adviser to an outstanding senior writing an in-depth thesis to graduate with departmental honors.

One student’s thesis earned the Cliometric Society’s annual award for best undergraduate essay in economics and another was nominated for the same prize. Yet another student’s thesis was published in revised form in Stats: The Magazine for Students of Statistics.

This summer, under Bodenhorn’s supervision, Malhotra researched tax records from the mid-1800s to compile data on the economic conditions of freed black Americans in Virginia. She created spreadsheets to compare what blacks owned with what whites owned from 1830-60 to determine the disparities between the two groups. Her work also included conducting background literature searches and reading related materials.

According to Bodenhorn, liberalized slavery laws in the upper part of the South, notably Maryland and Virginia, encouraged private emancipations, boosting the population of freed blacks. But those states faced many of the social and racial pressures experienced by the rest of the South after the Civil War.

The EXCEL project, which Bodenhorn hopes will extend into the fall semester, casts light on what different groups owned and how much they were worth, Malhotra says. “So far in this topic, a lot has been done in the area of land ownership. We are trying to expand on that work by including other important sources of income and measures of wealth.”

Personal property tax records from the period tally the number of cattle, sheep, and horses a person owned, along with household and kitchen furniture, gold, silver, clocks, watches, and personal income.

“We hope to end this research with a more comprehensive knowledge about disparities between blacks and whites, how large these disparities were, and whether they existed in all spheres or just a few. So far all I can really say is that free blacks, in comparison with the white population, did not own much, especially in the form of land and other physical assets such as gold, horses, etc. But we do see that they did have a reasonable income,” Malhotra says.

“EXCEL is definitely one of Lafayette’s positive points. It offers a unique experience to students and professors,” continues Malhotra, who is president of the Asian Cultural Association, an active member of the International Students Association, and a resident adviser.

She adds that Bodenhorn is very clear about what he wants, yet very helpful, taking time to explain things when she faces doubts. “The college as a whole has lived up to my expectations, and the professors and facilities are great.”

Bodenhorn says Malhotra’s contributions have been impressive.

“She’s terrific,” he says. “She’s very dedicated and enthusiastic, always asking questions.” Bodenhorn took on Malhotra based on good reports concerning her prior work as an EXCEL Scholar. Working with Andrea Smith, assistant professor of anthropology and sociology, Malhotra investigated the body of research on the 5,000,000 to 7,000,000 ex-colonists who returned to Europe after colonization faded out following the first world war, with a special focus on former British colonizers of India.

In another EXCEL project with Bodenhorn this summer, Joshua Sullivan of Pennsauken, N.J., a junior double majoring in history and economics, tracked and analyzed various instruments for three U.S. financial markets based on prices from newspapers in the era of the War of 1812. The newspapers reported prices on a handful of traded equity securities, government bonds, U.S.-English exchange rates, and interest rates on short-term borrowings.

“We evaluated what those stock exchanges did before, during, and after the War of 1812. We looked at each week’s market readings and at what kind of stock fluctuations occurred. I also did extensive reading into the state of the economy at those times,” Sullivan explains. “We also looked at London and Amsterdam, comparing the pound and Netherlands’ guilder to the U.S. dollar. The hypothesis is that when ties were most hostile, exchange rates were great and money flow minimal.”

Sullivan and Bodenhorn created their own market-index similar to the Dow Jones Industrial Average or Standard and Poor’s.

“Anytime you get to work one-on-one with someone who’s working on something significant, it’s great,” says Sullivan.

Bodenhorn received the Otto Eckstein Prize for best article in Eastern Economic Journal, the Arthur H. Cole Award for best article in Journal of Economic History, and an award from Rutgers University for teaching excellence. He has been the recipient of three fellowships, including one for 2000-01 from the Earhart Foundation, as well as five externally-funded research grants and three grants funded by Lafayette.

He holds doctoral and master’s degrees in economics from Rutgers University and a bachelor’s degree from Virginia Tech.

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