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Trusting and Scandalising Business Enterprises 2009 EHS Research proposal Koji Yamamoto


Trusting and Scandalising Business Enterprises in the Financial Revolution
My thesis has shown that schemes for improving basic industries was organised and fashioned in response to a body of negative stereotypes. Building upon this, I will use the Fellowship to research and write two complementary articles. They will show that distrust of ‘projector’ was rooted in wider practices of trust and distrust, and that the stereotype influenced how newer, essentially financial, enterprises were promoted and scandalised. The first article, ‘Precipitating the South Sea Bubble: Paradoxes and repercussions of distrust’, will develop my analysis of stereotypes by applying it to the monumental financial scandal. Historians have begun to show that pamphlets, songs, memoirs, and engravings inflated the financial damage of the Bubble and magnified sins and the greed of perpetrators (Hoppit, Goldgar). Similar conclusions have been reached by literary scholars, drawing heavily upon Pocock’s account of the country ideology (Nicholson, Sherman, Ingrassia). Both groups have explained the excessive response as a somewhat automatic reaction from a society witnessing the ‘rage of party’ and the rapid commercialisation of print. No account of business culture has been offered to account for the scandal-mongering. Revealingly, when Jonson’s Alchemist (1610) was performed in the bubbles’ aftermath, its epilogue suggested that the audience would find a precursor of ‘the South Sea Project’ in the play, a suggestion voiced also elsewhere. Taking this seriously, the article will first revisit theatrical and literary representations of the ‘projector’ as a reservoir of preconceptions that informed the forging of the Bubble. To do this, it will draw upon twelve plays that dealt with ‘projectors’, including Jonson’s Volpone (1607) and King’s Transactioneer (1700). Novels, character-books, and all the fifty-nine publications published before 1800 that bore ‘projector’ in their title-pages will also be considered. The article will reveal that, like the negative stereotype of the ‘monopolist’ that David Sacks has examined, that of the projector tended to simplify: rather than unpacking multi-faceted causes of business failure, it drew attention to the betrayal of trust and promoters’ duplicity and excessive ambition. In so doing, the article will argue, even the most burlesque of the criticisms implied that projects could be wisely, cautiously, and profitably undertaken.

Trusting and Scandalising Business Enterprises 2009 EHS Research proposal Koji Yamamoto


The second half of the article explores repercussions of stereotyping. Drawing upon pamphlets that supported the South Sea Company, it will argue that the Company’s public credit scheme (which triggered the 1720 bubble) was promoted precisely as a wise and profitable undertaking backed by MPs, merchants, and divines. Promoters, like those I have studied in my thesis, sought to distinguish the scheme from dubious ‘projects’. Then, exploring the well-known ‘Bubble’ prints and literature (readily available in the BM, BL, and elsewhere), the article will show that most commentaries drew attention away from the fact that the scheme had been promoted as a credible undertaking. Thus, it will conclude, the Company’s fall was scandalised according to the pre-existing stereotypes about unsound ‘projects’. By repeatedly castigating vices of the ‘projector’, a body of literature and plays paradoxically precipitated the rise of speculative mania. The boom of superficially credible undertakings invites us to ask: What did it mean for investors to trust, and be disappointed by them? The second article, ‘Recounting Trust and its Breakdown in the Financial Revolution’, will offer a partial answer to this. Plays portrayed investment as an emotional affair. An Exchange broker in Wilson’s Projector (1665) was ‘afraid’ that the project for the ‘sole engrossing of Love Letters’ might fail; but, once the promoter cajoled, he was so convinced and excited as to sing in joy. In contrast, historians’ discussion of trust has drawn (often implicitly) upon functional conceptions of trust (Luhmann, Barber). Historians of economics have given close attention to the investment craze of 1720, but have discussed whether investment was based on ‘fundamentals’ (Dale, Shea). Historians of science, technology, and commerce have highlighted the importance of trust, but implied that trust was indispensable because it reduced uncertainties in communicating knowledge, judging expertise, and extending credit and networks (Shapin, Ash, Smith). Yet contemporaries rarely responded in functionalist fashion as scholars now do (but see Muldrew, Glaisyer). We are yet to explore the meanings and significance contemporaries gave to trust when it actually collapsed. The second article will do this by analysing stories of trust and eventual disappointment detailed in unusually rich archival evidence: Exchequer depositions and testimonies. It will examine legal suits concerning the Company of the Mine Adventurers, the Douglas Navigation, and the York Buildings Company as three well-documented

Trusting and Scandalising Business Enterprises 2009 EHS Research proposal Koji Yamamoto


speculative enterprises that collapsed in 1710, 1721, and 1733 respectively. It demonstrates that, while meanings given to the breakdown of trust were never homogenous, it was expressed emotionally, often according to pre-existing stereotypes. The companies were stylistically accused of ‘oppressing widows and orphans’; stigmatised as a ‘project’, the Mine Adventure was accused of ‘Basely deserting’ investors; the Douglas scheme was blamed for making ‘a Bubble thereof’, swindling ‘all such Unwary Persons as they could draw in.’ The article will conclude that investors explained the breakdown of trust in ways that resonated, and perhaps fed into, the scandal-mongering we have found in the aftermath of the South Sea Bubble and elsewhere. In short, the two research projects will complement each other by juxtaposing experience of trust with the unintended effects of distrusting ‘projectors’. Doing so will support and develop the central premise of my thesis that pre-existing stereotypes shaped aspects of business culture. They will also offer a cultural explanation for the making of the South Sea Bubble, and offer an alternative approach to trust that could be applied to histories of science, technology and commerce. They will urge us to explore meanings of trust and distrust as contemporaries articulated them.