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Howard Bodenhorn, professor of economics and business, has received a grant from Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to support a study of black entrepreneurship in the 19th century. The grant also will provide a research opportunity for a Lafayette student, who will help him analyze data in original source material from the mid-1800s.

The study is part of a larger project of Bodenhorn’s that examines the economic status of free African Americans in the antebellum South by looking at education, wealth, occupations, and social aspects such as marriage and the mass country-to-city migration. He has received grants for this project in recent years from the National Science Foundation and the Community of Scholars program funded by the Mellon Foundation and Lafayette College, which supports Lafayette research collaborations conducted in groups of one or more professors and multiple students.

While African Americans were necessarily limited in their business opportunities and thus cannot be compared to the standard held for whites, Bodenhorn sees impressive examples of their entrepreneurship. Some blacks exhibited their entrepreneurial spirit in service and retail industries and became business successes; some were able to purchase freedom for themselves and their families.

But previous research has been confined to looking at isolated cases of success or examining single companies. Bodenhorn will conduct a “more systematic study of entrepreneurship, a broader-based study, instead of just looking at individuals or a handful of people.”

“There’s been interesting books written about black entrepreneurs, but they focus on one or two accounts,” he explains. “These same half-dozen stories get repeated over and over again. I’m hoping I can bring another set of a dozen or so stories to the table so we can judge whether or not those stories I’ve read so many times are actually an accurate portrayal of black entrepreneurship.”

“I want to find out what business opportunities were available to those who had the entrepreneurial drive,” he adds.

Bodenhorn will examine the black populations of Baltimore, Md.; Charleston, S.C.; New Orleans, La.; and Petersburg, Va. (a major city in the 19th century with a significant black population), gathering data from the 1860 census, contemporary city directories (the 19th century equivalent of the Yellow Pages, which give alphabetical listings of residents, addresses, and occupations, as well as identifying blacks by the designation “f.m.c.,” meaning “free man of color” ), and records from R.G. Dun & Company.

The latter will provide the greatest insight, notes Bodenhorn.

“Dun & Company was a credit rating agency established in the 1840s and was the predecessor to the modern Dun & Bradstreet,” explains Bodenhorn. “These reports on small businesses provide detailed contemporary assessments by Dun’s agents about the business practices and credit worthiness of most business owners.”

Armed with this information, Bodenhorn will gain a deeper understanding than what is available from the simple statistics in census figures.

“While previous studies have provided an overview of black business ownership, I intend to focus on changing patterns of ownership and entrepreneurship in the antebellum era. A detailed study of the four cities will provide more information about the dynamic nature of black entrepreneurship in early America,” he says.

Bodenhorn will spend summer 2007 at Baker Library at Harvard University’s business school, going through the hundreds of volumes of Dun & Company records. It is this information that a Lafayette student will assist him in analyzing.

“Entrepreneurs are thought of as the big, rich guys, but small business entrepreneurship is just as important as large entrepreneurship,” says Bodenhorn. “In the middle of the 19th century, with the exception of banks, canal companies, and railroads – and by modern standards even they were small — the U.S. economy was driven by small businesses.

“My sense is the people who have the entrepreneurial spirit tend to be fairly resilient. Even in the face of discrimination they can find an outlet for entrepreneurial skills. Even if they end up only serving other blacks, it’s still an important part of the process.”

Students with whom Bodenhorn has worked in his research on the overall project include economics and business graduate Shivani Malhotra ’03 and Martha Osier ’06 (Nairobi, Kenya), a double major in economics & business and international affairs. They, like the student Bodenhorn will hire for his work on the entrepreneurship study, collaborated with him as part of Lafayette’s distinctive EXCEL Scholars program, in which students assist faculty with research while earning a stipend. The program has helped make Lafayette a national leader in undergraduate research. Many of the more than 160 students who participate in EXCEL each year go on to publish papers in scholarly journals and/or present their research at conferences.

Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation works with partners to encourage entrepreneurship across America and improve education. It has programs that look at the application of entrepreneurship in history and other disciplines, encouraging a broader examination of the role of entrepreneurship.

Bodenhorn’s recent research also has included work with EXCEL Scholar Denica Karadzhova ’07 (Stara Zagora, Bulgaria) examining whether factory workers were compensated for expected periods of unemployment prior to the institution of unemployment insurance.

He conducted EXCEL research with Trustee Scholarship recipient and Phi Beta Kappa member Veronica Hart ’05 (Sewanee, Tenn.), who graduated as a double major in economics & business and Spanish, on how race affected crime and punishment in the 1800s. He presented the results of their collaboration at a faculty seminar at Saint Lawrence University and coauthored a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper with her. Hart shared their results at the Social Research/Social Justice Conference hosted by Muhlenberg College.

A member of the Lafayette faculty since 1993, Bodenhorn has mentored several outstanding seniors writing in-depth theses to earn departmental honors at graduation. One thesis earned the Cliometric Society’s annual award for best undergraduate essay in economic history. Another was nominated for the same prize and yet another was published in revised form in Stats: The Magazine for Students of Statistics.

Bodenhorn mentored mathematics-economics major Justas Staisiunas ’04 (Panevezys, Lithuania) in an independent research project on capital flows to Eastern Europe, which the student presented at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research. Bodenhorn, Staisiunas, and Susan Averett, professor and head of economics and business, co-authored a paper with Staisiunas published by Economic Inquiry, one of the leading journals in economics.

Bodenhorn is the author of State Banking in Early America: A New Economic History, which was nominated by Oxford University Press for the prestigious Alice Hanson Jones Prize, awarded every other year by Economic History Association for the outstanding book in North American history. The book was praised in major reviews by publications such as Harvard Business School’s Business History Review, MIT Press’ The Journal of Interdisciplinary History, and the on-line Economic History Services.

The book is the second major work on banking in early America by Bodenhorn, an expert in American economic and financial history, law, economics, and industrial organization. He wrote A History of Banking in Antebellum America: Financial Markets and Economic Development in an Age of Nation Building, published in 2000 by Cambridge University Press. That volume, for which he conducted research under a major grant from the John M. Olin Foundation, was hailed by the field’s leading scholarly journals and received many favorable reviews.

An editorial board member of Financial History Review and Journal of Economic History, Bodenhorn has published more than 30 papers in peer-reviewed academic journals and given many presentations at academic conferences and seminars.

He has been a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) since 2001 and is author of 10 NBER working papers. More than a third of Nobel laureates in economics, and several current and past members of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors, are current or past NBER associates. About 600 NBER associates are chosen from the 10,000 or more academic economists in the U.S. Economists are nominated by their peers and appointed to NBER positions because their research is innovative and they have made significant contributions to the economics literature and to the understanding of economic phenomena. While NBER is committed to nonpartisan research, much of its work has direct policy implications, and the NBER working paper series has as much influence on academic research as any of the major economics journals.

Bodenhorn is co-editor of a Yale University Press book series, a member of Economic History Association’s Alice Hanson Jones Prize Committee, and serves on EHA’s Audit and Budget Committee. He is a former editorial board member of Explorations in Economic History and former chair of EHA’s Committee on Research in Economic History.

He is a reviewer for National Science Foundation, many academic journals, and major publishers, including Cambridge University Press, Yale University Press, W.W. Norton & Co., Pearson Education/Prentice-Hall, and Routledge.

In 1999 Bodenhorn received the Otto Eckstein Prize for best article in Eastern Economic Journal. He was the 1993 recipient of the Arthur H. Cole Award for best article in Journal of Economic History. In 2003, he received Student Government’s Superior Teaching Award, and in 1988, he won an award from Rutgers University for teaching excellence.

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

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