Speculation: Culture, Knowledge and Finance in England, 1650-1750  

Tutor: Natasha Glaisyer

Module type: MA Option

Module Code: HIS00033M

Credits: 20 credits

The need to increase state revenue in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to pay for military activities necessitated what has been called a financial revolution. Opportunities for speculation expanded: the Bank of England was established in 1694, the market in stocks took off, and lotteries, insurance and “projects” were all undertaken.  This course will explore the cultural history of this revolution to answer such questions as:  Who were the investors? How did financial knowledge circulate? Did lotteries offer the promise of rags to riches? Could bank notes be forged? How did satirists poke fun at the stock jobber?

These developments raised all sorts of problematic questions: What was behind all this paper money? Could it be trusted? How did these practices relate to gambling? What sort of challenges might the “projectors” of these schemes present? One way this course will begin to address such questions is to consider the overlap between the discourse, people and practices of the worlds of finance and natural philosophy in this period and particularly, the crucial roles of credit and knowledge practices.

In addition to a burgeoning secondary literature a wide variety of primary material will be used in this course: broadsides, ephemera, pamphlets, newspapers, periodicals, trade cards, diaries, playing cards and visual satires from Early English Books Online, the Eighteenth Century Collection Online, the British Museum’s print collection, online newspaper collections, online legal records and the general collection in the JB Morrell Library.

Seminars may include:      

    • A Financial Revolution?
    • Knowledge and Natural Philosophy
    • Credit
    • Projectors
    • Insurance
    • Gaming and Lotteries
    • Forgery and Frauds
    • The South Sea Bubble.

Preliminary Reading

  • Roseveare, Henry. The Financial Revolution, 1660-1760. London; New York: Longman, 1991.
  • Shapin, Steven. A Social History of Truth: civility and science in seventeenth-century England. Chicago; London: University of Chicago Press, c1994.
  • Brewer, John. The Sinews of Power. London; Boston: Unwin Hyman, c1989.
  • Stewart, Larry. The Rise of Public Science: rhetoric, technology, and natural philosophy in Newtonian Britain, 1660-1750. Cambridge, UK; New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1992.