The Transmission of Financial Knowledge in Historical Perspective, 1840 – 1940

Conference at the German Historical Institite of Washington

For us, “financial knowledge” encompasses how people teach, learn, and think about a variety of financial behaviors, from saving and investing to borrowing and spending. The conference takes as its starting point the idea that the transmission of financial knowledge, whether concepts like “family budgets,” practices such as the use of “pin money,” or folk wisdom about the nature of risk-taking, takes multiple forms, from everyday conversation and personal correspondence to mass journalism and works of fiction.

In the wake of the financial crisis of 2008, scholars in fields as diverse as  history, sociology, economics, and literature have devoted new attention to how financial knowledge (whether accurate, false, or dubious) is promulgated and circulates at the local, national, and international levels, as well as its role in the creation of the modern economic order. We seek to bring together studies that address these questions in a variety of different geographic contexts during the century bracketed by the global financial crises of the Panic of 1837 and the Great Depression. Case studies of the history of knowledge have captured almost all spheres of activity except the marketplace, while historians of capitalism pay close attention to culture but have not focused on the specific techniques of how economic practices are transmitted within and across groups. We hope that inviting attention to a rich array of case studies and source materials about the creation and dissemination of financial knowledge will shed light on how both subfields can be expanded in interesting new directions.

 Areas of specific focus could include but are not limited to:

  • financial institutions (e.g., savings banks) and financial institution publications
  • financial practices within families (for example, children’s allowances)
  • ethnic communities and immigrant diasporas (for example, remittance systems or microlending groups)
  • social or religious communities and mutual-aid societies
  • the training of financial professionals
  • pedagogical literature (both fictional and non-fictional)
  • analyses of genre, such as newspaper columns or advice books
  • party politics and campaigning (such as analogies between family and state budgeting)
  • government policy and jurisprudence (e.g., effects of regulation, policy initiatives, and legal decisions on individual financial strategies)

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