Michael Hugh O'Malley

Michael Hugh O'Malley

Michael Hugh O'Malley


19th and 20th century US, cultural history, history of technology

Michael O'Malley is the author of Keeping Watch: A History of American Time, and Face Value: the Entwined History of Race and Money in AmericaKeeping Watch explores the transition from natural to mechanical sources for time, and the invention of standard time and daylight saving. Face Value is a history of the ways Americans argued about the subject of money and value. It looks at the common root of "specie," meaning gold or silver, and "species," meaning something like race. A specialist in the cultural history of the 19th and early 20th century, O'Malley is also co-editor of a collection of essays, The Cultural Turn in US History: Past, Present, and Future.

O'Malley's current research interests include the history of American music, the technology of sound recording, and the trajectory of eugenics in the 20th century. Surprisingly, the State of Virginia has declared him to be "colored." He is also researching the history of popular responses to the idea of corporate personhood. O'Malley helped establish the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at GMU, and was one of the early pioneers in the use of digital media. He has published and presented on web design for historians and remains active in the field. He maintains a blog at The Aporetic.

His current courses can be viewed at http://chnm.gmu.edu.edu/courses/omalley

Current Research

“I’m currently researching the career of Eddie Lang, a jazz guitarist from the 1920s. Lang was born Salvatore Massaro, the son of Italian immigrants. He recorded as Eddie Lang and also, in mixed race groups, as “Blind Willie Dunn.” I’m interested in the intersection of racial categories, marketing techniques, and the technologies of recording at the dawn of the modern music industry. I’m also looking into the career of Walter Plecker, the Virginia supervisor of the census who classified my Irish immigrant great grandfather as a “colored” man. Plecker was a die-hard eugenicist and systematically wiped out the historical record of Virginia’s Indian tribes by reclassifying Indians as “colored.” Finally, I’m working on a project I started with the late Roy Rosenzweig, to trace the history of the zip code from an administrative tool designed to promote efficiency to a marker of cultural and social identity.”

Selected Publications

Face Value: The Entwined History of Race and Money in America (Chicago 2012)

With James Cook And Lawrence Glickman, The Cultural Turn in US History: Past, Present, and Future (Chicago 2009)

Keeping Watch: A History of American Time (Viking/Penguin edition 1990: Smithsonian press edition 1995)


Selected Articles

“Rags, Blacking, and Paper Soldiers,” in The Cultural Turn in US History: Chicago 2009

“That Busyness Which is Not Business: Nervousness and Character at the Turn of the Last Century,” in Social Research Summer 2005

With Roy Rosenzweig, “Brave New World or Blind Alley: American History on the World Wide Web,” in Journal of American History, (June 1997)

“Specie and Species: Race and the Money Question in 19th Century America,” and “Response to Nell Irvin Painter,” both in American Historical Review 99 (April 1994)


Digital publications

“Free Silver and the Constitution of Man: The Money Debate and Immigration at the Turn of the Century,” in Common-Place (Vol. 06, No. 03, April 2006)

With Roy Rosenzweig and the American Social History project, Who Built America? V. II (CD-Rom edition) December 1999

Courses Taught

History 389: Magic, Illusion, and Detection
History 389: The American History of Money
History 610: History and Memory
History 626: Technology and Culture
History 629: The Gilded Age and Progressive Era

Dissertations Supervised

Anne McDivitt, We Take Fun Seriously: The Creation of the Video Game Industry in the United States (2018)

Nathan Sleeter, Fortunate Deviates: A Cultural History of Gifted Children, 1916-1965 (2017)

Gerald Prout, Coxey's Challenge in the Populist Moment (2012)