The finding: Slaveholding plantations of the 19th century used scientific management techniques—and some applied them more extensively than the factories thought to be their originators.
The research: Caitlin Rosenthal pored over hundreds of account books from U.S. and West Indian plantations that operated from 1750 to 1860. She found that their owners employed advanced accounting and management tools, including depreciation and standardized efficiency metrics, to manage their land and their slaves. After comparing their practices with those described in the account books of northern factories, Rosenthal concluded that many plantations took a more scientific approach to management than the factories did.
The challenge: Did historians get the genesis of management wrong?