Debating Capitalism: Early Modern Political Economies (seminar)

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

Julia Rudolph and Carl Wennerlind
Spring 2015 Semester Seminar

Emerging discourses of political economy offered a series of powerful analytical frameworks for understanding and shaping the profound changes underway in early modern Europe and its empires. Sponsored by the Center for the History of British Political Thought, this seminar traced a number of different traditions of political economy, primarily from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and explored some of the vibrant debates that took place over the nature of improvement and prosperity. Participants explored the interplay between self-interest and moral sentiments, the ethics of pleasure and luxury, the changing definitions of credit and reputation, and the growing problems of poverty, inequality, and criminality. Careful attention was paid to the ways in which political economy was embedded in discourses about natural history and religion, moral philosophy and political theory, gender and law. The seminar mixed readings in sources and recent scholarship with discussion of seminar members’ projects on these and related themes. Canonical (Locke, Mandeville, Hume, Rousseau, and Smith) and quasi-canonical writings on political economy were studied alongside related literary and legal texts. While the majority of the readings came from England, Scotland, and France, others, read in translation, were produced in the Dutch Republic, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Sweden.

Co-Directors: Julia Rudolph is Associate Professor of History at North Carolina State University. Her most recent publication is Common Law and Enlightenment in England 1689-1750 (2013), and she is currently at work on two new projects: one about the history of English mortgage law and one about the history of judicial power in early modern Ireland. Carl Wennerlind is Associate Professor of History at Barnard College, Columbia University. After publishing Casualties of Credit: The English Financial Revolution, 1620-1720 (2011), he is currently working on two books, one about the history of the idea of scarcity and one about science, spirituality, and political economy during Sweden’s “Age of Greatness.”