University of Cambridge > > Early Modern Economic and Social History Seminars > Science, finance and empire: assessing the role of networked capital in Britain’s economic development, 1660-1720

Science, finance and empire: assessing the role of networked capital in Britain’s economic development, 1660-1720

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Over the past few years, new research has changed how and when historians are identifying Britain’s “capitalist transformation”, with studies of structural, labour, and institutional change putting the seventeenth-century stage in our understanding of the topic. This paper will contribute to that growing field of work by drawing on new evidence developed during the ESRC -funded “Risky Business: Investing in Innovation and Britain’s Economic Development” project. Specifically, it will analyse investment practices of over 11,000 investors who helped fund and direct economic activity across an array of sectors. As well as investment in the “big five” (the Bank of England, East India Company – Old and United, Royal African Company and South Sea Company), the data also includes investment in a further twenty-nine organisations, covering finance, manufacturing, trade, mining, and others. Additionally, investors who were patented “inventors”, members of learned societies, and contributors to major charitable projects are also identified. By integrating the analysis of investment in traditional capital markets with interest in a wider array of economic sectors and concurrent participation in scientific and innovative practice, the paper sets out not to assess so much the financial decision making or portfolio development of specific investors, but rather to use the networks that this generated as an explanatory tool for understanding the broader and entangled development of multiple sectors. Firstly, this analysis will demonstrate how Britain’s investors operated in an environment whereby facilities crossing corporate, state, and individual networks were required to access investment opportunities, demanding institutional practices that facilitated interaction and engagement across a multiplicity of different social, cultural, and political networks. Secondly, I will argue that within this analysis we can trace the impact of what I will call “networked capital”: the mutually reinforcing combination and exploitation of financial, natural, physical, human, and social capital across different businesses and sectors that was a central and defining feature of Britain’s economic transformation.

This talk is part of the Early Modern Economic and Social History Seminars series.

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