two young teens work outside in winter coats using a drill to put together a picnic table
March 29, 2022

What is Capitalism? (No, really!)

Dr. Jones's historiography group unpacks 3 questions that help shape their framework for understanding history
by Theo ’22, Workshop student, Historiography Project

On the very first day of the Workshop*, Dr. Jones—instructor in history and social science and the faculty lead for the historiography project—challenged our group to answer three fundamental questions that would shape our framework for understanding history for the rest of the term:

  • What is capitalism?
  • What should a democratic society look like?
  • What is bias?

Unsurprisingly, we had a lot to talk about.

In a seminar-style round table over French toast and oft-replenished caffeine, the five of us sought out the differences in our approaches. We discussed capitalism as a transfer of power and democracy as an ideal, then formulated thoughts on how each can infringe on the other’s goals. All the while, Dr. Jones pushed us further with political theory—including Marx’s definition of capitalism as the obfuscation of relationships—and historical context.

The focusing lens for our project is the gilded age, which we examine as a window into multiple pasts—the past of the epoch itself and the pasts of the people who have recorded it in the subsequent century and a half. So far, we’ve used references from James and Mary Beard, Richard Hofstadter, John Dewey, and a modern collaborative textbook to track a broader cultural dialogue over values and understanding the world. These writings, though they cover the same time period, often butt heads, and their disagreements have solicited our most instructive conversations, enabling us to consider what goals and strategies we find convincing in our own time period.

Ultimately, it’s hard to say that we as a group found a “solution” to all the world’s woes. And yet there was something expressly cathartic about this exercise. Our underlying beliefs were questioned and what came out of it was a worthwhile and nuanced discussion about the role of education in shaping democratic society, the role of capitalism in shaping education, and the role of human bias shaping any system we choose to create. This, combined with the tonic of working in the Abbot Learning Garden in the afternoons, encouraged a far more thoughtful approach than the more confined mentality of other classrooms—even classrooms just a few feet away from our own.

In the coming weeks, we will continue to examine the gilded age and refine our understanding of its associated histories. We will march on in our quest to examine the systems underpinning society on a broader scale while using questions of the past to seek answers for the future. Though three days affords little time to revolutionize one’s way of thought, the first week of the workshop has been a promising glimpse at a term’s worth of valuable learning.

The historiography group includes Theo ’22, Emma ’22, Zeena ’22, Sean ’22, and Natalie ’22.



Each spring term, the Workshop welcomes 20 seniors to this interdisciplinary, project-based course. With an eye toward reimagining what school can be, the Workshop is the senior’s only academic commitment for the entire term. Instead of splitting their time and attention into units of distinct courses and fields of study, they work closely with peers, faculty, and community and global partners on a series of linked, interdisciplinary projects that revolve around a single theme. Within a chosen theme, students explore areas of personal interest. This year's theme is Experiments in Education.

During the first few weeks of the term, students are working on one of four faculty-led projects. We will be featuring blog posts by students during this time.

  • Historiography (led by Chris Jones)
  • Listening to Buddhists in Our Backyard (led by Andy Housiaux)
  • Andover’s CAMD Scholars Program: Advancing DEIJ Teaching, Learning, and Community Outcomes (led by Corrie Martin)
  • Bias (led by Nicholas Zufelt)


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