events events

Political Arithmetick


A Conference sponsored by the Department of History, University of Maryland, College Park, and the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture

March 16–18, 2012

Ulrich Recital Hall, Tawes Hall, University of Maryland, College Park


This conference focuses on the new concept of “political economy” and the debates surrounding imperial construction in the Americas during the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries. Its title, taken from the pamphlet by Sir William Petty published in 1690, indexes western European engagement with formulating the ideological and practical components of empires at the end of the seventeenth century. Petty and his cohort interrogated the means, sometimes by comparative analysis, to make trade, peoples, and nations flourish; they probed schemes and intentions for their effects on commercial development and populations. Petty’s calculations also involved concerns about authority, hierarchy, and justice. At issue are the implications of gauging policies, crafted for a variety of reasons, in terms of an imperial calculus. Emphasizing the political part of political economy draws attention to the strategizing or “political arithmetick” that shaped the social and cultural fabrics of empires. Of equal import are the negotiations and implementations that occurred in colonial settings and the reactions and responses that determined the actual forms of those societies and economies.

The Program Committee for this conference consisted of Holly Brewer, University of Maryland, Peter Thompson, University of Oxford, and Fredrika J. Teute, Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture.