About this talk: The Business of Debt offers a visual analysis of the changing scope of the municipal bond business from the early moments of the Great Depression to the 1980s, a decade described by city officials, bankers, and others as one of tremendous chaos. By data visualization methods, the project moves from one period of precarity to another, documenting, in the years between, the remarkable growth of a tight-knit profession of bankers and bond attorneys. Ultimately, it helps users see that the bond market was made not through supply and demand or other autonomous forces, but by a relatively small group of identifiable people who bought, sold, held, and resold debt, and who helped turn cities into tax-exempt investment vehicles.
Destin Jenkins is a scholar of racial inequality. His work bridges the fields of economic, urban, and political history, and focuses on capitalism, democracy, and social movements in the United States during the long twentieth century. He is the author of The Bonds of Inequality: Debt and the Making of the American City (University of Chicago Press, 2021) and the principal investigator and curator of The Business of Debt, a digital humanities project that reveals how the twentieth-century municipal bond market was not driven by abstract processes, but stitched together by a small, but powerful cadre of financiers and attorneys. He is also co-editor of Histories of Racial Capitalism (Columbia University Press, 2021), which brings together scholars across a range of disciplines to revisit the persistent question of the relationship between race and capitalism. His writings have appeared in the Washington Post, The Nation, and the New York Times. Before joining the faculty at Stanford, he was the Neubauer Family Assistant Professor of History at the University of Chicago. He has held fellowships at the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History at Harvard University, and the Robert L. Heilbroner Center for Capitalism Studies at The New School.