Texas Tech University

Abigail Swingen NEH Grant Recipient

Abigail Swingen

"The Financial Revolution and the British Empire in the 17th and 18th Centuries"

"The Financial Revolution and the British Empire in the 17th and 18th Centuries," is an exploration of how and why Britain developed into a financial capitalist economy during the early modern period. It investigates the long-term origins and consequences of Britain's Financial Revolution, which included the creation of the national debt and public credit on the part of the British government to help raise revenue to pay for expensive military endeavors at the turn of the eighteenth century. During the seventeenth century, Britain experienced profound social, economic, and political transformations in terms of agricultural production, manufacturing, overseas trade and colonization, as well as new and more extensive forms of taxation by the state, which changed how people interacted with the broader economy. These transformations laid important foundations for later developments in banking, investment, and finance, and the book will consider these changes as well as the intellectual shifts that were necessary for contemporaries to understand, accept, or reject these transformations. The major contribution of "The Financial Revolution and the British Empire in the 17th and 18th Centuries," will be the connections it makes between economic transformations and developments related to Britain's early modern empire. For example, the development of overseas trading companies as investment opportunities such as the East India Company, the Royal African Company, and the South Sea Company, was intimately connected to imperial expansion, overseas trade, and colonial settlement. This indicated a level of understanding of a world beyond London on the part of investors. The South Sea Company, for example, was founded in 1711 on a premise of strong financial returns on the slave trade to the Spanish American colonies. This scheme did not prove as profitable, however. When the slave trade to the Spanish colonies proved too difficult to maintain, South Sea Company directors concocted an investment scheme designed to absorb a number of government debts, which resulted in the South Sea Bubble of 1720. This was perhaps the most infamous financial catastrophe in early modern European history. By taking these failures and uncertainties seriously, as well as how the British state, investors, and political institutions responded to them, my book will help explain why, ultimately, a modern financial system became successfully entrenched in Britain during the eighteenth century.

I will use my NEH Summer Stipend to support a research trip to the National Archives in London, where I will consult Treasury papers from the 1660s through the 1730s. The Treasury was the main government office charged with financial matters relating to taxation, royal finances, customs, and banking. These papers are filled with communications not only from government officials in Britain and the colonies, but also contain correspondence from a variety of people who interacted with the government in new ways in light of economic transformations. For example, the papers contain numerous reports and petitions from people who wished to promote new financial schemes and sought state support for their ideas. Also contained in the Treasury papers are reports of occasional violence and rioting on the part of Britons in a number of cities and towns as they dealt with profound financial changes and their political implications.

A grant from the NEH is an amazing opportunity for me as a historian. In terms of my plans this summer, the sources I will consult at the National Archives are not digitized or calendared in any form and therefore the only way I can read them is in the archive. The ability to regularly conduct research in archives overseas is absolutely necessary for me as a historian of Europe, but sadly there are fewer and fewer sources of outside funding available. The NEH Summer Stipend program remains one of these few sources that can be used in a variety of different ways by scholars of the humanities in terms of research and writing.
In 2017, the state of Texas will receive over $250,000 in financial support from the NEH to help fund a number of individual and community projects in the humanities. Universities like Texas Tech and the communities it serves benefit tremendously from this financial support. I am grateful for the support and suggestions I received from the Texas Tech College of Arts and Sciences Humanities Committee, headed by Associate Dean David Roach, in crafting my research proposal last summer, as well as the support I have received from the Department of History, the Humanities Center, and the Office of Vice President for Research. I am pleased that Texas Tech University values the importance of the humanities as part of its overall research and scholarship agenda.

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is an independent federal agency created in 1965. It is one of the largest funders of humanities programs in the United States.

Humanities Center