Exchanges of Economic and Political Ideas Since 1760

Programme Objective

The programme on Exchanges of Economic and Political Ideas since 1760 had as its point of departure two of the promising developments in recent historical scholarship. The first was the investigation of large scale political, economic, and cultural systems, and in particular of Atlantic history and South East Asian and Indian Ocean history. The second was the history of political and economic thought in a large scale context of economic, religious, and legal history, including the history of the states of mind of individuals in their economic lives.

Each of these developments in a connective or capacious history had been of interest to outstanding research students and young scholars in recent years. But the two developments had not in general been connected to each other, and this was the objective of the proposed programme. In the new imperial/Atlantic history, as in the new intellectual/economic history, scholars sought to enlarge the object, or the perspective, of historical investigation. In the case of Indian Ocean or Atlantic exchanges, the spatial perspective had shifted. In the case of the history of economic thought, the cognitive or psychological perspective had shifted, from a more to a less restricted conception of ideas and sentiments.

The new imperial/Atlantic history and the new intellectual/economic history were connected at several points, and it is these connections which the programme sought to develop. The history of "large scale systems" has been concerned, from the outset, with economic relationships. Economic ideas and economic information are extraordinarily difficult to confine within the space of national histories. They are even difficult to confine in spaces as extensive as the Atlantic or Indian Ocean worlds. The ideas and information that are exchanged (and transformed) across oceanic regions are in many cases, too, ideas about economic events, and their relationship to religious or political life. Economic thought is itself often inter-regional or global, both in the sense that it is concerned with global connections, and in the sense that it is concerned with conditions (such as "development", or "rationality") which are assumed to be universal.

The programme had two initial projects, one concerned with ideas of global connectedness in the late 18th century, and the second with the uses of 19th century political ideas in distant and disparate settings. A subsequent project was about the intellectual history of late 19th and 20th century international identities and institutions. The objective, in each project, was to explore the long-distance movement of economic and political ideas, and the ways in which ideas are used and transformed in different cultures and societies.

The steering committee for the programme consisted of C.A. Bayly (Cambridge), Sugata Bose (Harvard), Emma Rothschild (Cambridge/Harvard), Gareth Stedman Jones (Cambridge) and Richard Tuck (Harvard.) William Nelson (Cambridge) was appointed to the first postdoctoral research fellowship in connection with the project in 2006. David Todd (Sciences Po/Cambridge) was appointed to the second postdoctoral research fellowship in 2007. Caitlin Anderson (Cambridge/Harvard) was research fellow associated with the programme in 2004-2005 in Harvard, and William O'Reilly (Cambridge) was research fellow in 2004-2005 in Cambridge.