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WMQ-EMSI Workshop, “Money in Vast Early America”

December 8, 2023 - December 9, 2023

The WMQ-EMSI Workshop Series is designed to identify and encourage new trends in our understanding of the history and culture of early North America. It fosters intellectual exchange among scholars working on thematically related topics that may be chronologically, geographically, or methodologically diverse. The participants are primarily mature scholars working on second or subsequent book projects; they share their works in progress with the aim of deepening and enriching their perspectives, their approaches, and ultimately the final products of their research.

DECEMBER 8-9, 2023


When economics ascended as a discipline in the late nineteenth century, it categorized “money” as a subject that was its own. That development stripped money of its history. Early American communities had struggled over how to represent value, package it as a medium, and use it to extract and distribute resources. The results surfaced in commentary, legislation, and the very architectures and ideologies of exchange, empire, sustenance, and development. But once claimed by economics, money became a simple means of measure, the term in which a price was written. Historians withdrew from the field, treating money as either a transparent fact of life or an abstruse topic beyond their competency.

New approaches to money reclaim it as a practice central to early American communities. This WMQ-EMSI Workshop aims to bring together scholars from history and related disciplines who seek to understand how diverse groups—including Indigenous- and African-descended peoples, European settlers, and imperial officials across the Americas and the Atlantic—created money and related media. The workshop will take a broad view of the subject matter: We define “money” to include phenomena intended to signify and circulate value. We invite submissions that treat money, so defined, as a project that differed across time and space and operated according to divergent designs. We are interested in the ways that money, as a political, legal, social, and conceptual practice, engaged communities and brought them into conflict with each other, as well as in the ways that understanding money’s history illuminates “capitalism” and its monetary infrastructure. The workshop welcomes scholarship that excavates the rich territory that is money from different disciplinary or interdisciplinary angles.

Participants will attend a two-day meeting at the Huntington Library (December 8–9, 2023) to discuss a pre-circulated, unpublished chapter-length portion of their current work in progress along with the work of other participants. Subsequently, the convener, Christine Desan of Harvard University, will write an essay elaborating on the issues raised at the workshop for publication in the William and Mary Quarterly. The participants’ meals, lodging, and travel expenses will be covered by the EMSI and the Omohundro Institute.

Proposals for workshop presentations should include a brief abstract (250 words) describing the applicant’s current research project, an equally brief discussion of the particular issues they are engaging, and a short c.v. The organizers especially encourage proposals from mid-career scholars who are working on their second (or subsequent) major project. Graduate students who have not defended their dissertations by the application deadline are ineligible. The CFP closed on July 17, 2023.

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