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  • The Economic Humanities and the History of Financial Advice
  • Paul Crosthwaite (bio), Peter Knight (bio), and Nicky Marsh (bio)

1. Introduction

In the wake of the Global Financial Crisis of 2007–2008, there has been a growing recognition among scholars that economic discourses, narratives, visualizations, and other forms of cultural mediation actively constitute what we call "the economy" in the process of representing it. Far from being neutral or transparent, economic media and representational technologies play an integral role in constructing the ideological coordinates of economic knowledge and practice. Crucially inflected by the methodologies of literary and cultural studies, while opening out onto the approaches of a range of other disciplines, this body of scholarship marks the emergence of a field to which, we believe, the term "Economic Humanities" is best able to do justice. The research that we have recently undertaken on the history of financial advice writing in the US has been shaped by our attempts to think through—in dialogue with this emerging field—exactly what it is that methodologies drawn from literary and cultural studies and the wider humanities can bring to the study of the economy and its genres of representation. Here we aim to situate some of the key findings of this research within the wider context of the exciting new field of interdisciplinary inquiry that we refer to as the Economic Humanities. Our aim, then, is both to provide an overview of the kind of work that is making something like the Economic Humanities an increasingly significant and visible presence at the intersection of multiple disciplines, and to provide examples—drawn from a particular research project—of what it might look like in practice.

We begin by reconsidering the key forerunner of contemporary intersections between literary studies, the wider humanities, and economics: the so-called New Economic Criticism that flourished in the 1990s. We go on to suggest that while this movement continues to offer valuable lessons, the emerging field that we term the Economic Humanities distinguishes itself by a broadened methodological scope made possible by greater interaction with various economically oriented branches of the social sciences. We then discuss our History of Financial Advice project as one example of what the Economic Humanities might do, highlighting three especially significant moments in the development of this genre of US writing: the decades around the turn of the twentieth century, either side of the Wall Street Crash of 1929, and the era following the emergence of a canonical body of financial theory in the early 1970s. Finally, in a brief conclusion, we point to key areas in which the Economic Humanities has potential to do important critical work in the coming years.

2. From the New Economic Criticism to the Economic Humanities

Critical dialogues between the cultures of finance and economics and those of literary studies and the humanities now possess their own well-rehearsed genealogy. While this history encompasses the Frankfurt School of the 1930s and 1970s cultural studies as well as the poststructuralist New Economic Criticism of the 1990s, it is the latter movement against which recent criticism has defined itself. We want to note briefly the internal heterogeneity of the New Economic Criticism and its continued influence before suggesting how the Economic Humanities might depart from it. The phrase "New Economic Criticism" comes from the collection edited by Martha Woodmansee and Mark Osteen in 1999. The collection drew on the productive confluence of New Historicism and poststructuralism, reading literary and economic texts through their political and social contexts while also assuming that those contexts were [End Page 662] themselves primarily signifying structures—that socioeconomic systems were ultimately systems of writing. This mode of analysis was already well developed, and in some ways the collection might be better read as showcasing new contributions to a practice already constituted in Anglophone literary studies by works such as Walter Benn Michaels's The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism (1987), Jacques Derrida's Given Time I. Counterfeit Money (1992), Marc Shell's Money, Language, and Thought (1982), and Jean-Joseph Goux's The Coiners of Language (1994). Yet the collection also seems strikingly prescient. Its thematic structure—focusing not only on "money and...


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