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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: 2022-23

Module summary

In early modern England opportunities for speculation expanded: the Bank of England was established in 1694, the stock market took off, and lotteries, insurance and “projects” all attracted ‘adventurers’. This module will explore the cultural history of these speculations to ask such questions as: Could bank notes be forged? Who were the investors? How did satirists poke fun at the winners and losers? Did lotteries deliver on their promise of a rags to riches transformation?

These developments raised all sorts of problematic questions: What was behind all this paper money? Could it be trusted? Who could be trusted? How did these speculative practices relate to gambling? What sort of challenges might the “projectors” of schemes present? One way this module 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. We will focus particularly on the crucial roles of credit and knowledge making practices.

We will explore a vast array of primary source materials: from playing cards to periodicals, trade cards to legal records, visual satires to pamphlets and newspapers.

Professional requirements

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Spring Term 2022-23

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, gambling 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 essay for formative assessment, due in week 6 or 7 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 Statement of Assessment for Taught Postgraduate Programmes.


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. They will also receive verbal feedback at an individual tutorial. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their formative 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. Supervisors are available during student hours for follow-up guidance if required. For more information, see the Statement of Assessment for Taught Postgraduate Programmes.

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:

Brewer, John. The Sinews of Power. London; Boston: Unwin Hyman, c1989.

Froide, Amy M. Silent partners : women as public investors during Britain's financial revolution, 1690-1750. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017.

Murphy, Anne. The origins of English financial markets : investment and speculation before the South Sea Bubble. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Roseveare, Henry. The Financial Revolution, 1660-1760. London; New York: Longman, 1991.

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.