HST3304: Money, Power and Society

20 credits (semester 1)

Module Leader: Dr James Shaw

Teaching Team (2019-20): Dr Julia Moses , Dr Tom Leng


Thematic Option Description

Zwei Steuereinnehmer by Marinus van Reymerswaele

The Thematic Option (formerly Comparative Option) is a type of 20-credit, one semester module at level 3. Thematic Options take major historical themes and explore these across a broad time-frame and in a variety of different cultural and geographic settings. Each Thematic Option is taught by a team of lecturers whose own research relates to aspects of the topic under discussion, and they are designed to involve students and the teaching staff in a dialogue about how we approach key questions in the study of past societies. The topics selected for the modules all represent areas of lively, current historiographical debate and offer opportunities to respond to interpretations and theories emerging in other disciplines, including anthropology, sociology, cultural studies, geography and political science. For this reason they will appeal especially to students with an interest in thinking across disciplines in the arts, humanities, and social sciences, including those studying for dual degrees. All of the Thematic Options raise issues with strong resonances in our contemporary culture.

Thematic Options have been created to complement the more specialised work at Level Three, looking beyond the detailed focus on one specific place and time to ask more conceptual questions and allow for the space to engage with significant themes that run across many of the periods that we tend to study in isolation. How can we compare historical experiences separated in time and space? Can we gain insights into understanding one period by knowing how similar challenges were met in a very different historical context? Do we learn more from what periods have in common, or from the differences that emerge?

The modules are taught through a series of lectures and ninety-minute seminars, placing an emphasis on collaborative learning and the encouragement of active student participation in researching and presenting material in class. The assessment is a mixture of coursework and marks for oral performance in the seminars.



A pass in at least two history modules at level two.


Module Summary

'The importance of money flows essentially from its being a link between the present and the future,' noted the economist John Maynard Keynes after witnessing one of the most devastating disasters in history, the Great Depression of the 1930s. The 2008 financial crash inaugurated an era of austerity that has again brought political economy to the fore of public debate, both in Britain and across the globe. Economists and politicians have been criticized for their failure to predict or do anything to avoid the boom-bust cycle of credit. Capitalism itself has been challenged for leading to growing inequality, concentrating vast wealth in the hands of a tiny minority across the world.

This module takes up Keynes' challenge to reflect on money as a link between past, present and future. How can we contribute to contemporary debates about taxation and the supply of money if we have no understanding of how these work and what they have meant in different historical contexts? This module suggests that we rethink assumptions about the relation between politics and markets. Rather than leaving discussion about these issues to a technocratic elite of economists, we need a broader public debate, one which is informed by an historical understanding of the relation between money, power and society.

This module takes a comparative approach to the history of money in societies across time. Students will have the opportunity to engage with and formulate their own interpretations of a subject that raises significant questions of historical and contemporary relevance: the nature of money and credit; the idea of 'the economy', the ethics of lending and borrowing; markets, trust and institutions; the role of the state; the influence of banks, bankers and merchants; and, globalization and the economy. The module adopts an interdisciplinary approach in order to understand how different cultures of exchange work in practice, gleaning insights from sociology, economics, anthropology and psychology.

We will engage with some challenging material in this module. We hope it will make you think about some of the key issues of the day in a different way, giving you a historical perspective on the role of money and exchange in different cultures and its relationship to diverse forms of power in society.

This unit aims to develops students’ ability and confidence in formulating analyses of conceptions and cultures of debt and money across a significant period of time. The module combines interdisciplinary and comparative approaches in case studies of different early modern and modern national/geographic contexts at an advanced level. Topics include the nature of money, ethics of debt, markets, trust, and financial institutions.


Teaching and Assessment

The module is taught through a combination of lectures and seminars. The lectures introduce the themes covered in the course and provide the necessary background and framework for exploring the subject. The 90-minute seminars provide opportunities for students to develop their ideas and discuss their reading for the module, and allow scope for students to gain experience in collaborative learning and in developing and articulating historical arguments.

Further guidance is provided in the module course booklet, available through MOLE.

Information on assessment can be found at: http://www.sheffield.ac.uk/history/current_students/undergraduate/assessment/level3


Intended Learning Outcomes
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