HIST 440 The Corporation: An Intellectual History

History 440, Undergraduate Seminar


Mondays, 2-4:50pm, Waite Phillips Hall 603

Corporations pervade our lives, whether as our employers; producers of goods and services for our consumption; or as the subjects of significant debate over their impact upon governments, markets, and societies. This seminar places this debate in the context of the deeper intellectual history of the concept of ‘corporation,’ tracing its origins and shifting meanings in philosophical and political thought since the medieval period. The course begins by exploring early conceptions of ‘corporation,’ especially in relation to the rise of the joint-stock company. It continues by examining the conceptualizations, critiques, and defenses of ‘corporation’ by political and economic thinkers since the Enlightenment. The course concludes by charting two key developments in modern thought on the corporation that have since proved central to contemporary discussion: the idea that corporations are people; and that they bear some responsibility to society. How did the meaning of ‘corporation’ change over time, and why? Throughout, we will critically engage with an array of primary and secondary sources, aiming to develop better grounds for our own views on modern corporations and their social role. Grading will be based on seminar participation and two papers.  For questions, please email Dr. Siddique at asheeshs@usc.edu.


Dr. Asheesh Siddique is a political, intellectual, and cultural historian of the British empire, early America, and early modern Europe who is interested in the relationship between governance, knowledge, and technology. Siddique’s first book project, tentatively entitled “Paperwork, Governance, and Archive in the British Empire During the Long Eighteenth Century,” examines the changing ways in which the British imperial state used the technology of paper to govern and administer its territories in North America, the Caribbean, and India during a century of immense geopolitical transformation. The project examines both the ways in which documents were developed and used in administration; and the history of their archivization. At USC, Siddique intends to start work on two new projects: a study of the rise of archive-based approaches to writing the history of the American Revolution during the nineteenth century across the Atlantic world; and a conceptual history of “corporation” in Western political, legal, and economic thought from the medieval period to the present.

Siddique received his PhD in History from Columbia University in 2016. Prior to that, he was trained at the University of Oxford (MPhil, 2009) and Princeton University (AB, 2007). His research has been supported by a number of institutions, including the Social Science Research Council, the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, and the American Philosophical Society.

%d bloggers like this: