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Speculation: Risk Taking & Money Making in England, 1650-1800 - HIS00150M

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  • Department: History
  • Module co-ordinator: Dr. Natasha Glaisyer
  • Credit value: 20 credits
  • Credit level: M
  • Academic year of delivery: 2023-24

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. At their core were questions of trust: who and what could be trusted? What was behind the paper money and could it be forged? Could projectors with their “too good to be true” schemes be trusted? What did investors risk when they lent to the state to finance wars? How was gambling related to investing?

A lot was at stake and there was no shortage of investors and adventurers from all walks of life who hoped for a rags to riches transformation by the purchase of a lottery ticket or a share in a company; and no shortage of contemporaries who poked fun at such hopes especially in the wake of the South Sea Bubble. 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 to answer these questions.

Module will run

Occurrence Teaching period
A Semester 1 2023-24

Module aims

The aims of this module are 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

Students who complete this module successfully will:

  • Demonstrate a knowledge of a specialist historiographical literature;
  • Present findings in an analytical framework derived from a specialist field;
  • Solve a well-defined historiographical problem using insights drawn from secondary and, where appropriate, primary sources.
  • Set out written findings using a professional scholarly apparatus.

Module content

Students will attend a 1-hour briefing in week 1. Students will then attend a 2-hour seminar in weeks 2-4, 6-8 and 10-11. Weeks 5 & 9 are Reading and Writing (RAW) weeks during which there are no seminars, and during which students research and write a formative essay, consulting with the module tutor. Students prepare for eight seminars in all.

Seminar topics are subject to variation, but are likely to include the following:

  1. A Financial Revolution?
  2. Cultures of Trust
  3. Paying the bills
  4. Projects and projectors
  5. Insurance
  6. Gaming, gambling and lotteries
  7. Forgery and frauds
  8. The South Sea Bubble


Task Length % of module mark
Long Essay
N/A 100

Special assessment rules


Additional assessment information

Students submit a 2,000-word formative essay in week 9.
A 4,000-word summative essay will be due in the assessment period.


Task Length % of module mark
Long Essay
N/A 100

Module feedback

Students will typically receive written feedback on their formative essay within 10 working days of submission.

Work will be returned to students in their seminars and may be supplemented by the tutor giving some oral feedback to the whole group. All students are encouraged, if they wish, to discuss the feedback on their formative essay during their tutor’s student hours—especially during week 11, before, that is, they finalise their plans for the Summative Essay.

For more information, see the Statement on Feedback.

For the summative assessment task, students will receive their provisional mark and written feedback within 25 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 reading during the module, please refer to the module VLE site. Before the course starts, we encourage you to look at the following items of preliminary reading:

  • 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.