Sean H. Vanatta
Program : History
Fields of Study : 20th Century US History, History of American Capitalism, Economic and Financial History
Advisor : Julian Zelizer
Sean Vanatta studies the development of American capitalism, with a particular interest in financial intermediation and regulatory policy. He received an MA in history from the University of Georgia, where he also received a BBA in marketing and BA in history. Since being at Princeton he has precepted for courses in the history of American capitalism and contemporary US history, and he is currently a fellow at the university's McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning. His CV can be found here.
Sean’s dissertation, “Making Credit Convenient: The Political Economy of Bank Credit Cards in Postwar America,” demonstrates how credit cards—specifically cards issued by banks—remade the political economy of the postwar United States. After the 1960s, the new availability of card-based credit smoothed the transition from economic prosperity secured through New Deal programs, which boosted the standing of wage earners, to a more precarious prosperity negotiated through financial markets. Since the New Deal, federal and state regulations had limited the opportunities for bankers to profit from the nation’s turn toward mass-consumption, while also circumscribing their markets geographically. For the banking industry, credit cards offered solutions to both problems: cards could be mailed across geographic boundaries and allowed banks to finance a wide variety of consumer spending. At the same time, consumer and labor groups placed cards at the center of a revived purchasing power politics that linked economic citizenship with the wide availability of safe, inexpensive credit. The development of credit card markets was an ongoing political negotiation between banker and consumer interests, one that remade consumption and the banking industry in the process.