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

March 8-9, 2019
Conference at GHI Washington
Conveners: Nicholas Osborne (New-York Historical Society) and Atiba Pertilla (GHI Washington)

We invite the submission of abstracts for a conference on “The Transmission of Financial Knowledge in Historical Perspective, 1840–1940,” to be held March 8–9, 2019 at the German Historical Institute 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)

Scholars interested in presenting a chapter- or article-length paper at the workshop are invited to send a brief abstract of 250–300 words as well as a short CV by August 1, 2018 September 4, 2018 to Susanne Fabricius ( by email with the subject line “Financial Knowledge.” Participants will be notified by the middle of September and are expected to submit a paper for pre-circulation by February 1, 2019. Travel and accommodation costs will be covered, pending further approval, but we also encourage participants to draw on institutional funding when available.