Connections, Trust, and Causation in Economic History (seminar)

For more past programming from the Folger Institute, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive.

This was a spring 2008 faculty weekend seminar led by Craig Muldrew.

An increasingly large fissure has opened up between the “new economic history” which requires a technical understanding of econometrics, and the new cultural history which is theoretically much closer to anthropology or to literary criticism than to traditional economic history. As a result, the question of how material factors of production, consumption, and exchange affect the nature of society and institutions has to some extent been neglected. This seminar provided a forum for interdisciplinary discussion of new ways of looking at economic causation, primarily through the conceptual importance of trust and connections. How were exchange relations created and maintained between historical actors as well as institutions, both in the marketplace and within other social and cultural spaces? With conversations organized around a core of advance readings and participants’ own research projects, the seminar addressed such topics as the difficulties of organizing the exchange of value, whether it was payment for a barrel of beer or the obligation due to a neighbor or patron. How was trust structured in the marketplace of money, credit, and trade companies? How did people understand economic motivation? And how did “economic” motivation relate to the formation of other “connections” such as patronage, family, office holding, membership in guilds and societies, or friendship, all of which could provide material security or social advantage? A range of projects and perspectives were sought, from studies of the consumption of material household goods, including luxury goods; of credit and reputation in plays; of matters of linguistic instability and the financial revolution of the late-seventeenth century; and of the obligations of legal contracts.


Director: Craig Muldrew is a University Lecturer in the Faculty of History and a Fellow of Queens’ College, Cambridge University. His publications include The Economy of Obligation: The Culture of Credit and Social Relations in Early Modern England (1998). He is currently completing a book on work and consumption of the laboring poor in early modern England to be published by Cambridge University Press in 2008.