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Call for Papers

This colloquium, the sixth in a biennial series and the first to be held in Belgium, offers an opportunity for scholars from a variety of disciplines to enrich their mutual understanding of the intersections between public finance, politics and print during Britain’s ‘financial revolution’.

The term ‘Britain’ is used loosely to refer to all constituent parts of the United Kingdom and also to Ireland and the colonies.

The organizers invite proposals for papers that will build on the three papers already contributed and the two contemporary publications they have chosen for discussion in an opening-day session. Ideally, submissions should develop ideas in, or comment upon issues raised by, one or more of the papers or readings already included in the program.

 Abstracts of the organizers’ three papers are printed below. The contemporary publications to be discussed are:

Benjamin Franklin, A Modest Enquiry into the Nature and Necessity of a Paper-Currency. Philadelphia, 1729. Reprinted in Leonard W. Labaree, ed., The Papers of Benjamin Franklin, Vol. 1 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1959), vol. 1, pp. 139-157.

Dr. William Douglass, A Discourse Concerning the Currencies of the British Plantations in America. Boston, 1740. Reprinted in Andrew McFarland Davis, ed., Colonial Currency Reprints, 1682-1751, Vol. III (New York: Augustus M. Kelly, 1964), vol. 3, pp. 305-363.

 Proposals are welcome in any of four general areas:

  • the mechanics of the ‘financial revolution’ itself — the operations, theoretical and practical, of institutions such as banks, joint-stock companies, public debt and paper money;
  • the effect of diverse understandings of emerging financial instruments and theories upon contemporary political debate as demonstrated in the literature and legislative debates of the period;
  • the influence of the successes and failures of specific legislative and / or financial proposals on the development of political and economic programs throughout this period;
  • the impact of literature and legislative debates of the period on people’s perceptions of the financial revolution and/or its political consequences;

Submissions should clearly demonstrate connections between as many as possible of the three themes of the colloquium: money, power and print. The term Money is used broadly to cover the core economic components of the financial revolution. By Power, we mean the contest between royalty, aristocracy, gentry, merchants and financiers for influence and standing. Print is taken to mean the ways by which the consequences of the interplay of money and power were explained, analyzed, explicated, advocated for or railed against, and misrepresented (whether deliberately or not) in newspapers, pamphlets, novels, plays, illustrations, and other printed material intended for circulation.

Consideration should be given to the degree to which the print material under discussion shaped the implementation of financial policies and influenced political discourse.

Papers will be distributed weeks in advance and presented in 2-hour sessions at which all colloquium participants are present. Presenters will have five minutes to summarize their findings. The rest of each session will be given over to questions and discussion, in which the goal is to enrich our mutual understanding by eliciting insights from all of the disciplines represented at the table. Authors are therefore expected to write for a non-specialist audience, avoiding jargon, making concepts from their own discipline readily accessible to all those present, seeking to identify areas of general interest, and focusing on questions on which scholars of various disciplines will have something to contribute.

Graduate students and emerging scholars are particularly encouraged to submit proposals.

Initial expressions of interest of 250 words or less are due no later than 15 June 2013. Earlier submissions are encouraged. Those whose initial proposals seem likely to be a good fit for the colloquium will be asked to get a full draft to the conference organizers by 15 December 2013. The final decision about which papers to include will be made in mid-February 2014 and the program will be published shortly thereafter.

Abstracts of the organizers papers:

British public finance during the War of the Spanish Succession: a quality theory of money 

Previous studies of the various debt instruments extant in the British system of public finance in the early eighteenth century (navy bills, tallies, Exchequer bills, annuities, short- and long-term corporate loans, etc.) approach them principally from a quantitative angle: as efforts to bridge the mathematical gap between revenues and expenditures. But much can be gained by focusing instead on their qualitative features. The fundamental problem of British public finance at this time was not revenue shortfalls per se but an inadequate supply of what contemporaries called ‘ready money’ — principally gold and silver specie. In many ways the system’s history can be viewed as a series of efforts to supply new close substitutes for ready money or force existing specie supplies through the Exchequer in greater proportion and/or with greater frequency. The paper focuses on Exchequer bills, South Sea stock, and lotteries as projects of this kind. 

Financial Necessity is the Mother of Fiscal Invention: Innovation and imitation in the financial practices of the Irish government and parliament in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries 

This paper examines the extent to which the Irish government and parliament engaged in innovative financial practices or imitated those of England and elsewhere in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, and the extent to which the focus and content of that engagement was dictated by a struggle for political and economic power between the executive and legislative arms of government. The paper starts with an overview of various financial innovations and imitations, such as the 1660s Customs and Excise acts, the 1690s adoption of parliamentary additional duties, the creation of a parliament-sanctioned national debt in 1716, and the failed national bank proposal of 1721. The main focus will be the extent to which the growing public debt led to experimentation in the 1710s and 1720s with forms of paper credit circulation through the use of warrants for army pay that was in arrears. In so doing, the paper will look to assess the level of understanding of accepted fiscal policy of the time evident in these endeavours and to consider whether or not the managers of the Irish public finances were rather reluctant, and indeed possibly somewhat desperate, innovators.

Why Cato?

This paper explores how the prominence of the ‘Cato’ meme and its replacement by competitors such ‘Britannicus or ‘True Born Englishman’ illuminates particular aspects of early eighteenth-century English political discourse. Cato’ became a public figure after such works as Sir William Temple’s ‘On Ancient and Modern Learning’ and Jonathan Swift’s Battle of the Books brought the ‘ancients vs. moderns’ debate to a general audience. The meme reached its zenith in the idealization of Joseph Addison’s Cato and culminated in John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon’s Cato’s Letters. The adoption as a public pseudonym of a moral authority and suicide who had failed in his time to prevent a perceived social decline indicates the depth of the rupture identified by the new nostalgics. Their work identifies a profound social breach stressed by writers for whom the Restoration was a disappointment, James II ghastly, William ineffectual, and Anne too little too late. As the death of Anne approached and the new constitutional order appeared irrevocable, ‘Cato’ served as an ideal pseudonym, allowing for an oppositional stance that was neither Jacobite nor republican. Yet, even as Cato was being staged, broader recognition of the inevitability of the new fiscal-social polity was increasingly apparent in publications by authors such as the ‘True Born Englishmen’. ‘Cato’ in the early eighteenth century was as cognizant of his end as had been his original namesake.