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Speculation: Culture, Knowledge & Finance in England, 1650-1750 - HIS00033M

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Natasha Glaisyer
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2021-22
    • See module specification for other years: 2020-21

Module summary

This module explores all sorts of questions about trust. Who can be trusted? What can be trusted? How did people answer these questions in the period 1650-1750 when they were ‘making knowledge’, trying to cheat people with forged bank notes or dubious investment schemes, or simply wanting to buy and sell things?

During the financial revolution opportunities for speculation expanded in this period: the Bank of England was established in 1694, the stock market took off, and lotteries, insurance and “projects” were all undertaken.  This course will explore the cultural history of this revolution to answer questions like:  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 questions: What was behind all this paper money? How did these practices relate to gambling? What sort of challenges might the “projectors” of these schemes present? We will begin to address such questions by considering 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: broadsides, ephemera, pamphlets, newspapers, periodicals, trade cards, diaries, playing cards and visual satires from EEBO, ECCO, the British Museum’s print collection, online newspaper collections, and the Proceedings of the Old Bailey online.

Professional requirements

Murphy, Anne L. The Origins of English Financial Markets: Investment and Speculation before the South Sea Bubble. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

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.


Module will run

Occurrence Teaching cycle
A Spring Term 2021-22

Module aims

The module aims to:

  • Develop skills of source analysis and interpretation
  • Assess a range of source material and relevant secondary works; and
  • Develop students’ powers of evidence-based historical argument, both orally and in writing.

Module learning outcomes

After successfully completing this course students should:

a)Be familiar with the financial history of this period

b)Be able to relate this history to relevant cultural, economic, political and social contexts

c)Have an appreciation of some of the debates concerning knowledge and credit in the secondary literatures of relevant disciplines

d)Be able to evaluate a wide variety of primary sources, both visual and textual

Module content

Teaching Programme:

Students will attend eight weekly two-hour seminars in weeks 2-9.

Seminars may include:     

1. A Financial Revolution?

2. Knowledge and Natural Philosophy

3. Credit

4. Projectors

5. Insurance

6. Gaming and Lotteries

7. Forgery and Frauds

8. The South Sea Bubble.


Task Length % of module mark
4000 word essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students will complete a 2,000-word procedural essay for formative assessment, due in week 6 of the spring term, for which they will receive an individual tutorial. They will then submit a 4,000-word assessed essay for summative assessment in week 1 of the summer term.

For further details about assessed work, students should refer to the Taught Masters Degrees Statement of Assessment


Task Length % of module mark
4000 word essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Following their formative assessment task, students will receive written feedback consisting of comments and a mark within 10 working days of submission. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their procedural work during their tutor’s student hours. For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 20 working days of the submission deadline. The tutor will then be available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment

Indicative reading

For term time reading, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:


The information on this page is indicative of the module that is currently on offer. The University is constantly exploring ways to enhance and improve its degree programmes and therefore reserves the right to make variations to the content and method of delivery of modules, and to discontinue modules, if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Where appropriate, the University will notify and consult with affected students in advance about any changes that are required in line with the University's policy on the Approval of Modifications to Existing Taught Programmes of Study.