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September 21, 2006

I Love Finance

Yes, these words actually came out of my mouth. Those who know me, and have heard me go off on the evilness of money and my hatred for everything and everyone having to do with money may be shocked. The context was a streetside conversation with a fellow history student about eighteenth-century Britain. I have always considered myself a bad historian because, in addition to being incorrigibly presentist, I have always had trouble approaching the past. I focused on the twentieth century because it seemed least foreign and because the sources are all typed -- no paleography for me! But, as regular readers already know, I have recently become enamored of the eighteenth century. I'm not giving up my presentist outlook just yet, though. What I love about eighteenth-century Britain (and I mean "Britain" in its widest sense: not just the British Isles, but also British colonies in North America, the Caribbean, and South Asia; British slave forts and trading posts in Africa; and British naval and merchant ships all over the world) is that it saw the birth of the modern world. The world as we know it began to come into existence in the eighteenth century, through Britain's contact with the rest of the world. What I love about finance is its historicity: the fact that it emerged at a particular moment (the eighteenth century) for a particular reason (to coordinate the flow of goods and money all around the world). The emergence of finance, banking, and insurance also changed the way people perceived themselves and the world. An excellent (though ahistorical) account of this epistemological shift can be found in Ian Baucom's Specters of History.

Posted by eklanche at September 21, 2006 09:50 AM

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